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Build in a Fire Plain, Get What You Deserve

Thu, 2018-11-15 16:00

Photo Source Robert Couse-Baker | CC BY 2.0

My girlfriend and I are trying to figure out a place to live, build a cabin. Somewhere in our native country probably, in the Catskill Mountains of New York, the land we know best, beloved to us. We live in one of the fastest-depopulating counties in New York State, and thank god for that.

First step in cabin-building: understand the land, know its history, and try to predict where it’s headed in the age of climate change. Don’t build in a deluge-prone valley. Many naifs before us have done so, not expecting two-hundred-year floods could flourish in our lifetime. Witness the hurricane-rains that swept through the Catskills in recent years, wiping out homes, storefronts, villages.

Second, related to the cognizance of floods: read the average hydrology, walk the streams, look for the springs, know where the water flows, and where it likely won’t.   We will need good water in the future, when it becomes scarce. We don’t want too much water but just enough for sustenance now and in the long term for subsistence.

Third: recognize that some ecosystems are fire-dependent, and will always be so. The deciduous forests of the northeast, humid, rain-tossed, do not fall under this rubric.

Fourth: consider that there are stupid popular places to set up shop that are incentivized by being alluring but also cheap, because no one – not the buyer, not the seller, not anyone in the deal – is thinking about the long term.

In arid California, where stupid cheapness has driven development, fire has been the norm for tens of thousands of years. Humanity has built its prodigious idiot outposts in fire plains during a period of anomalous rainfall in the 20th century, and humanity now pays the price.

Scratch that: It is not humanity which has wrought disaster. The disaster is the product of the lunatic idea that we can build anywhere and everyplace, into all ecosystems. In California the specific expression of this lunatic idea is the real-estate industrial complex, a tiny segment of capitalist humanity. For millions of bright-eyed homeowners, told they could get a deal regardless of the history of the land, the lunatic idea has the appearance of normalcy.

The destruction wrought in California from fire is in fact a return to an ancient pattern of scorching of the land now exacerbated by climate warming.

Prehistoric records show that huge stretches of the American West burned annually at rates far higher than anything Euro-American settlers have experienced in their short time on the continent. Which is to say that the Euro-Americans enjoyed a climatic suppression of fire.

Now with collective agony, drawing together, feeling for our fellows in the far reaches of the fire plain but not understanding a goddamn thing about what’s really driving the fires of California, we cry like children. How could this have happened? Why is this happening to us?

Well, it’s happening because we have been stupid and arrogant and mindless, self-regarding and weak and fickle, vain and cheap and greedy.

California, overdeveloped, overrun with people, saturated with sprawl, will burn.  I’ve always hated the human infrastructure in California, and so I can’t say this is a bad thing.

Categories: News for progressives

Today It’s Treasure Island, Tomorrow Your Neighborhood Store: Could Local Currencies Help?

Thu, 2018-11-15 15:58

Amazon has reached the far corners of the earth… and the highest elevations.  Delivery men venture 11,562 feet up in the Himalayas to leave a package.  While the company may serve a useful purpose in remote regions, its phenomenal growth also reveals that no town is immune from its less desirable consequences.  The online retailer’s omnipresence has been all too apparent in Chicago, New York, and London in recent months, where stores have been closing in droves.

Treasure Island Foods of Chicago, a family-owned business started by Christ Kamberos in 1963, announced at the end of September that after 55 years it was closing all remaining stores in just two weeks.  Now, the lights are out and the shadows empty shelves are all that remain, with the scent of fresh sourdough and gyros cooking on the spit only in shoppers’ reminiscences as they walk by the darkened windows.

Julia Child once described Treasure Island as “America’s Most European Supermarket.”  In my memory, it was unforgettable.  The stores always had treasure troves for every season, from delicious green picholine olives from France, to liver pâté and English Blue Stilton at Christmas, and of course, Marmite.  Not to mention exotic cookies and chocolates from all over the world: marzipan and chocolate from Switzerland and Austria, shortbread from Scotland, and crisp butter wafers from the Netherlands are a few examples.  It was a haven for special gifts during the holidays.

Treasure Island was not alone in the struggle to survive amidst food delivery apps and Amazon.  Not only were customers buying goods online, but Amazon was also shifting into the grocery market by taking over Whole Foods.  Not surprisingly, Chicago’s other local grocery chain Dominick’s closed in 2014.  The city lost one of its most beloved bakeries too in 2017 when the Swedish Bakery closed after 88 years in business.  Gone were the days of mouth-watering rum balls, Princess Torte laden with green marzipan, and toska cake.  In its final days an estimated 500 customers per day flocked in to have one last tasty treat.

Purchasing items online might be convenient but the trend has serious costs for many industries, not only food.  Retail has been hit hard.  Sears recently filed for bankruptcy and is closing 142 stores.  So did Toys R Us, shuttering its outlets last summer.  Luxury goods retailer Henri Bendel announced in September that its stores will be closing too, after 123 years.

What’s more the change is not just in the United States.  In the UK, Marks & Spencer plans to close 100 stores by 2022.  Debenhams and House of Fraser in London are also in trouble.  In March of 2018, Sweden’s H & M reported the lowest first quarter profits in more than a decade, down 62%.  When large international stores are being squeezed, one can understand how local shops are struggling to keep afloat.  A recent Atlantic article observes that Manhattan is becoming a “rich ghost town.”  So many store fronts once filled with interesting items are now empty, a trend that the author predicts will move to other cities.  Will the choices for future shoppers be restricted to chain stores and dark unrented windows?  Local small retailers unable to afford high rents are gradually being nudged out of existence.  They need help.

Could Local Currencies Save Our Neighborhood Stores?

The answer may be introducing local currencies.  Studies have shown that municipal currencies stimulate the local economy.  They serve as shock absorbers and protect in times of recession.

Switzerland has had the WIR since 1934 and Ithaca, New York introduced its own currency known as Ithaca Hours in 1991.  Ithaca Hours started out with 90 individuals who were willing to accept the currency as a payment for their work, and expanded to become one of the largest local currency systems in the U.S.  Ithaca’s example was an inspiration for municipal systems in Madison, Wisconsin, and Corvallis, Oregon.

The UK also has several local currencies including the Bristol Pound.  The former Mayor of Bristol accepted his entire salary in Bristol Pounds, and more than 800 businesses accept the local currency.

Once local currencies are in circulation, consumers can continue using their national currency to purchase from large retailers and from online giants like Amazon.  Their local currency, though, is typically used at local businesses.

As an example, were a Chicago currency implemented, consumers might use their U.S. dollars to purchase goods online but would use their Chicago currency to buy locally.  Legislators and communities could thus lend a helping hand to local gems that remain in our towns.  Lutz Cafe and Pastry Shop, for instance, established in 1948, is unique to Chicago, and creates some of the most delicious cakes in the world.

By 2003, there were over 1,000 local currencies in North America and Europe.  Yet this is a mere fraction of the total number of cities.  If local currencies expanded to a majority of towns, perhaps our beloved neighborhood stores would be able to survive the online onslaught.

The Benefits of Preserving Local Shops

Consumers lose a service every time a small shop shuts down.  A local paint store, for instance, can provide advice on what paint to use for a particular purpose, how to use it, etc.  Nowadays, in many towns, these stores have closed.  Consumers’ options are limited to buying online without input from an expert, or from a large national chain, where they will be lucky to find advice comparable to that from a specialized store.  The same holds true for many kinds of home repair.

Then there is the charm of familiar faces at the corner store.  Growing up near Treasure Island as a child, I could scarcely forget the cherry-cheeked cherub-like server at the deli counter.  After noticing this eight-year-old’s tendency to gorge on free olive samples once a week, he would always laugh heartily with those chubby cheeks and remark with a chuckle that I would end up eating all the olives before reaching the check out line.  Ordering specialty olives online is just not the same.  There may be no checkout line, but also no one to talk or joke with.  The same is true for the automated Amazon Go stores.  The nice deli server today is out of a job after decades of service.

Another hidden cost of online purchases is environmental.  Aside from fossil fuel emissions, delivery of a parcel requires packaging, and often bubble wrap, made of low-density polyethylene, a form of plastic that comprises 20% of global plastic pollution.  Reusable bags and a neighborhood store within walking distance are clearly better for the environment.

Amazon’s reach extends to places like Leh, India, high in the snow-covered Himalayas, where many of its goods may not be available in town.  And one can appreciate and understand the value of online purchases in such rural communities.  In fact that was exactly the original purpose of Sears with its iconic catalogue.

Yet in cities where one can readily buy the same items in stores nearby, we have to try to refrain from the convenience of one-click shopping.  The more we purchase online items, the more we pollute the environment and kill local stores.  Without small businesses, cities will eventually become homogenized with block after block of chain retailers, or dark empty windows, as has started to happen in Manhattan.  The character of a quaint town or a trendy metropolis becomes obsolete.

Gone will be the unique gift shops and the luxury tailor.  When the British high street becomes indistinguishable from U.S. ghost towns and when the only place to eat is a chain burger joint, the fun of traveling and the adventure of new places will be lost forever.  The vibrant world of new flavors and experiences will be no more.

So please think twice before clicking an online purchase.  You may be signing your local store’s death warrant.

Meena Miriam Yust is an attorney based in Chicago, IL with a special interest in the environment.

Categories: News for progressives

Climate of Rage

Thu, 2018-11-15 15:56

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

My former teaching colleague at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, Warren Goldstein, who now teaches U.S. history and chairs the History Department at the University of Hartford, hit the nail exactly on the head in regard to the main source of hate in the United States in an article in The Villager, a New York City newspaper.

“Enough squeamishness from the MSM. The violent, hateful rhetoric comes overwhelmingly from one side only and from its padron, Donald Trump. Period,” wrote Goldstein, who has a doctorate in American Studies from Yale University. He knows the U.S. well.

“Who have their rhetorical targets been? Immigrants, Democrats, black people and George Soros. And who were actual targets last week? Democrats, blacks and immigrant- and refugee-supporting Jews,” he wrote in the piece published on November 1.

As to what he relates is the reluctance by Mainstream Media to focus squarely on the main cause of the vitriol in U.S. society today, Goldstein wrote that “in order to make peace, we need first to talk truth, and say who provided the soil, the nourishment, the encouragement and the spark to these homegrown terrorists and killers: the would-be pipe bomber of Democrats; the racist Kentucky Kroger murderer; the Pittsburgh killer. Not, alas, according to Sunday’s New York Times: ‘The anguish of Saturday’s massacre heightened a sense of national unease over increasingly hostile political rhetoric.’”

“Really? I don’t feel unease—I feel rage at the Trumpian big lies,” declared Goldstein.

“It’s cause and effect. Rhetoric from the top prepares, nourishes and sparks actions in the field. That’s the truth we need to declare, print, shout—and take into the voting booth. Then maybe we can start making peace,” Goldstein said.

The piece was headlined: “We all know who’s fueling the hate; So say it.”

There are others who place this accurate focus on Trump for the wave of hate that has been sweeping the country. U.S. Representative Adam Schiff of California on CNN’s “State of the Union” program spoke following the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue on the “kind of climate” now in the U.S. “This country is filled with amazing beautiful wonderful people who came here, many of them, attracted by the idea this was a land of opportunity no matter your religion, ethnic origin, your color,” he said. “That idea is being tested by those who are preaching hatred and division. And we have to overcome that. And I think the president has a pivotal role there. No one sets the tone more than the president of the United States. And the tone that he sets is one of division, often one of hatred, sometimes one of incitement of violence against journalists and there is no escaping our collective responsibility, but there’s no escaping the tone that he sets for the country.”

Or as Julia Ioffe wrote in a column in The Washington Post: 

“Culpability is a tricky thing, and politicians, especially of the demagogic variety, know this very well. Unless they go as far as organized, documented, state-implemented slaughter, they don’t give specific directions. They don’t have to. They simply set the tone. In the end, someone else does the dirty work, and they never have to lift a finger—let alone stain it with blood.”

“The president did not tell a deranged man to send pipe bombs to the people he regularly lambastes on Twitter and lampoons in his rallies, so he’s not at fault,” wrote Ioffe. “Trump didn’t cause another deranged man to tweet that the caravan of refugees moving toward America’s southern border (the one Trump has complained about endlessly) is paid for by the Jews before he shot up a synagogue. Trump certainly never told him, ‘Go kill some Jews on a rainy Shabbat morning.’ But this definition of culpability is too narrow…”

Celia Wang, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union, says: “The numerous statements he’s made calling himself a ‘nationalist,’ crowds at his rallies chanting threats against George Soros—it’s all connected.” The “central premise of his presidency,” she says of Trump, is “to attack and smear immigrants and refugees. All the violence we see is the extreme and radical version of what he is implementing on a policy and legal front as president of the United States.”

Ronald Lowy, the Miami lawyer for the family of Cesar Sayoc Jr. accused of sending a slew of packages containing pipe bombs to high profile Democrats, media institutions and others, has explained that “this was someone lost who was looking for anything and found a father in Trump.” Sayoc’s father walked out on the family when he was a child. “He doesn’t seem to recognize reality. He lives in a fantasy world.”

Many of the “Trumpsters”—the angry people who populate Trump’s non-stop rallies—also seem to have found a father in Trump with his violent rhetoric, rhetoric not only full of vitriol but also of lies, thousands and thousands of lies.

We’ve had some beauts as U.S. presidents. But Trump, according to a determination of nearly 200 top U.S. political scientists, is the worst. The social science researchers voted in recent months in a 2018 Presidents and Executive Policy Greatness Survey. Trump bumped James Buchanan out of the bottom spot of the survey done every four years. Other analyses confirm this determination as, surely, will history. Trump is the leading personification of hate, of malice, of ill will and of malevolence in the United States. We, indeed, all know who is fueling the hate—and we must say it.

Categories: News for progressives

How Two Demagogues Inspired Their Followers

Thu, 2018-11-15 15:54

Photo Source frankieleon | CC BY 2.0

The parallels between the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and that of Donald J. Trump have been widely noted. A new book by James M. Longo, Hitler and the Habsburgs: The Führer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals (Diversion Books, 2018) brings out similarities as well as differences. As in 21stcentury America, economic and political troubles clouded the judgment of many Germans and other peoples in the 1920s and 1930s. Across the Continent, as Longo says, people “searched for a leader, a savior, a dictator to rescue them from their economic and political woes. Hitler believed he was that man.” The aspiring Führer spoke only German but proved himself  “a chameleon able to articulate the unspoken emotional language of his listeners.”

Wealthy industrialists secretly financed Hitler’s rise to power after 1924. For unemployed workers  he promised full employment;   for the  forgotten German, he pledged respect. Hitler won financial support and many followers, but he craved legitimacy and political power to make his vision a reality. In public Hitler met with enthusiastic crowds. Behind closed doors he beguiled wealthy monarchists. One-third of German’s ancient nobility joined his Nazi Party, while many others supported him through their silence.  President Trump also craves symbols of legitimacy and seeks to destroy any sign that he was not duly and freely elected.

The insightful American journalist Dorothy Thompson interviewed Hitler and described him  as an “agitator of genius….the most golden tongued of demagogues.” She advised her readers: “Don’t bother about the fact that what he says, read the next day in cold news print, is usually plain nonsense.” To understand what was happening,  “You must imagine the crowds he addresses: Little people. Weighted with a feeling of inferiority.” Appeals to their racial pride were “the cheapest form of self-exaltation.” If one was debt, if one had not made a success in life, there was still the consolation that one belonged to the master race.

Hitler was explicit that Germans are a superior race ordained to conquer  the earth. Trump does not go so far in glorifying his own race, but he hints at its superiority and the need to expel aliens from United States soil. Trump denies he is a racist, but gives his followers every reason to despise people of color—from the Obama family to the Latinos walking northward to the Muslims seeking safe refuge from war and ideological fanaticism. Trump’s suggestions that Obama was born in Africa expressed his racist syndrome.

Hitler’s personal life and his policies, like those of Donald Trump, should have been anathema to serious religious believers. But Hitler tried to silence his critics and unite his followers by  uniting independent Lutheran churches in a “Protestant Reich Church.” An ardent Nazi, Ludwig Müller became its presiding bishop.  He vetted Lutheran clergy to ensure they were “politically reliable” that is, accepted the superiority of the Aryan race.  This tactic anticipated Trump’s appointment of Matthew G. Whitaker to be Acting Attorney General in November 2018.  A few years earlier, when Whitaker campaigned for the Senate, he courted the anti-abortion, evangelical Christian vote, saying at one candidate’s forum that he would scrutinize nominees for federal judge to ensure they had a “biblical view of justice.” Both Hitler and Trump appointed wolves to guard the hen house.

In August 2017 Whitaker wrote that “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far.” He asserted that the Special Counsel had overstepped the boundaries of his inquiry when he began looking into the Trump family’s finances. This would be a “red line” that Mr. Mueller should not cross, warning that it would render the investigation a “witch hunt”—a favorite reproach of the president.

Like the United States under Trump, Germany in the 1930s had its version of sanctuary cities where the Führer’s dictates did not reach. Hitler’s “Eagle Nest” at Berchtesgaden played a role like Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach.  Trump did not lay out his plans in a book like Mein Kampf, but his Art of the Deal, written  largely by Tony Schwartz, revealed his self-centered transactionalism. Hitler bragged that he was the greatest German of all time; Trump, more modestly, claimed only to be one of the greatest U.S. presidents.

Following the November 2018 elections, Paul Krugman blogged that  “Trump isn’t a dictator, much as he might wish he were. He can tell federal officials not to talk–but he can’t tell private citizens, including fired prosecutors, not to testify when called by Congress. His defensive wall has been breached, bigly.” With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, “Trump can’t really kill the [Special Counsel’s] inquiry–because now people with subpoena power can call Mueller and colleagues for testimony, and get the facts out anyway.”  Now, “Trump is going to find out what the word ‘oversight’ means. He’s had a very cushy two years with a unified government at his beck and call. Now he’s going to find out what politics is really about.”

Unlike Germany in the 1930s, the political institutions of the United States continued in the Trump era to offer bulwarks against a would-be despot. More than half the U.S. citizenry had an unfavorable opinion of Trump. By contrast, as Ian Kershaw put it in Der Spiegel Online (January 30, 2008), “betweenthe death of Hindenburg in August 1934 and the expansion into Austria and the Sudetenland four years later,  Hitler was indeed successful in gaining the backing of the vast majority of the German people, something of immeasurable importance for the disastrous course of German policy ahead.” In the United States the 2016 and 2018 elections showed that less than half of American voters supported Trump and his policies. The president’s golden tongue might not save him from the revelations still to come of his financial and other transgressions.

Categories: News for progressives

Radical Idealism: Jesus and the Radical Tradition

Thu, 2018-11-15 15:50

Another world is possible, if not already on its way – for better or worse.  There are humanizing and sustainable alternatives to the way we organize society, and there is a diverse tradition of individuals and movements that do the work to build a better future.  I would characterize this tradition as radical idealism: a stance dedicated to dignity, peace, and the constant struggle against injustice.

As a young person in US public education as well as the Protestant church, I did not consider the possibility of another world: it’s not the purpose of those (or any) institution to suggest alternatives exist.  But I was a critical child, and discovered the tradition of radical idealism through the punk rock scene.  Everything was permitted: from NOFX to Chumbawamba, Noam Chomsky to Emma Goldman, Edward Abbey to Rachel Carson, Leonard Peltier to John (Fire) Lame Deer, Howard Zinn to James Boggs, and from Fred Hampton to Subcomandante Marcos[1].  My education began where the school and church curriculum would not go.

The tradition of radical thinking, writing, organizing, and fighting for a better world – the foundation of radical idealism – is a fringe tradition. I recognized this early on, and made a connection to things I read in the Bible, namely the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus was a threat to the power structures during His time and was exiled immediately after birth.  He taught his followers a lifestyle incompatible with greed, individualism, authoritarianism, militarism, and nationalism.  He healed, preached, and educated without a place to lay His head because He knew what awaited Him if He was captured by the authorities.  His Sermon on the Mount wasn’t meant to comfort the listener in turbulent times, but rather establish an ideal: an impossible standard to guide and provide hope for humanity. Like so many radical idealists before and after Him, Jesus was executed by the State.

The contradiction is stark.  If Jesus Christ was radical, what happened to the religion named after Him? Why does the nation that identifies with that religion seem to be the most oppressive and dangerous nation in history?  French professor, Jacques Ellul, in addressing why Christianity gave birth to a culture “completely opposite to what we read in the Bible,” offered an entire book on the “the subversion of Christianity[2].”  Although, in His typical fashion, Jesus explained the disconnect on an individual level when he quoted the Old Testament:

“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.  For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13: 13-15).

Jesus spoke plainly, radically, and idealistically[3].  He challenged His followers to hear His words and not participate in the ways of predatory economics, authoritarian politics, and rampant individualism.  Unfortunately, Christianity allowed the social forces of greed (capitalism) and country (nationalism) to institutionalize the Man and His teachings in order to obtain a seat at the table of power.  When a person’s eyes, ears, and hearts are closed to the love and dignity of all humans, dehumanizing solutions develop in the darkness.

This darkness is palpable in 2018.  The United States of Amnesia, consumed by 24-hour news media and miles of Twitter feeds, has given way to an information age with little substance.  The most powerful office in the country is held by a White Nationalist, and it appears that many Christians in the U.S. support him.  The Democrats can only hope to be a moderating force against overt white supremacy, exploitation, and war as they shift quickly to the center-right of the political spectrum.  The socialists, if not consumed by the Democrats, can barely get a platform in the political arena.  All the while the anarchists battle the fascists, distribute for Food Not Bombs, and provide disaster relief.  The ideology of capitalism and war research is embedded in academic institutions, and will not allow the university a chance to combat a corrupt and oppressive society.  All the while, Noam Chomsky can’t stop reminding us that we face two existential threats: climate change and nuclear annihilation (i.e., the slow burn or the fast track).

Radical idealism is not delusional, but allows the individual a way to conceptualize light in dark times.  It does this by positioning us in the collective struggle for dignity, peace, and justice.  Radical idealists have left a trail of breadcrumbs and books for us to draw strength from including the teachings of Jesus contained in the Gospels.  It is up to us to build a new society in the shell of the old, an ideal society grounded in love, dignity, and lessons learned from the light of radical idealism.

Notes.

[1] Listed are leftist political musicians, USAmerican anarchists, environmentalists, Indigenous resistant fighters, working-class intellectuals, and revolutionary organizers.

[2] The contradiction inherent in radical idealism is the accompanying pessimism resulting from the fact that past attempts at redistributing wealth and power in society have resulted in totalitarian states either through seizing control internally as was the case with the Soviet Union, or waging war against the revolution as was the case in Spain in 1936. Therefore, any lesson from other movements that were corrupted by greed and the pursuit of power are valuable. (Ellul, Jacques. The Subversion of Christianity. Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986.)

[3] This particular reading of this Bible passage was offered to me by Joel Spring quoting Wilhelm Reich quoting Jesus of Nazareth in the phenomenal book, A Primer of Libertarian Education. (Spring, Joel. A Primer of Libertarian Education. Montreal/New York/London, Black Rose Books, 1998.)

Categories: News for progressives

An Anarchist Uprising Against the Liberal Ego

Thu, 2018-11-15 15:46

Those who are against fascism without being against capitalism, who lament over the barbarism that comes out of fascism, are like those who wish to eat their veal without slaughtering the calf…They are not against the property relations which engender barbarism; they are only against the barbarism itself.

– Bertolt Brecht, Writing the Truth: Five Difficulties, 1935

I have known some who have been rationally educated…They were marked by a microscopic acuteness; but when they looked at great things, all became a blank and they saw nothing…and uniformly put the negation of a power for the possession of a power – & called the want of imagination, Judgment, & the never being moved to Rapture, Philosophy!

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Letter to Tom Poole

The care with which these [cosmogonic] myths are transmitted from generation to generation and ritualistically rehearsed proves that more than curiosity is at stake in their origin.  They came forward to meet a fundamental human need: the need to sense oneself as grounded in the cosmos and thereby oriented.  Without orientation confusion sets in; if it persists, life loses its radar.

– Huston Smith, Beyond the Post-modern Mind

The quest that determines the orientation for man in the world (in Islamic thought)… is to find the vertical dimension symbolized by the North Star which makes possible the ascent of the soul toward the threshold of the worlds beyond [i.e., a cosmology in which non-rational, instinctual kinds of knowing still have sense]…To lose sight of the North means no longer to be able to distinguish between heaven and hell, angel and devil, light and shadow, unconsciousness and transconsciousness.”

– Tom Cheever, Green Man, Earth Angel (in part quoting Henry Corbin, scholar of Islamic Sufism)

The liberal ego poses an interesting contradiction.  It insists not upon being“egotistical” in the way we think of it, of thinking “too much” of oneself, being self-centered, selfish, etc., but upon being servile, second-rate, low worth, “co-dependent” in relation to the existing power structures.  The liberal, while accepting the rewards of bourgeois attainment and thus living comparatively well,  in failing to challenge her ego’s supremacy,  is automatically obedient to the illegitimate authority of the existing capitalist structures.  She cannot do otherwise; she is profoundly disoriented in the metaphysical sense meant by Huston Smith.  The drastically ungrounded liberal soul is oriented, not to its “noble origins” but to the reduced view of human life issuing from scientism, unalleviated by imagination, that says we  ascend from lesser beings (thus we emphasize “progress”) rather than having descended from gods (i.e., having been born with perfection or wholeness in us).  This is not an argument for creationism, but against the negation of imagination that has us training ourselves and our children to become cogs in a machine, rather than to love – and serve –  “the Great” and “the Whole.”

The dilemma we face is real: without orientation to the vertical, modern post-religious people have three ways to stay above the terrifying abyss of non-being, the task once performed by religion: 1) turn the clock back to rigid authoritarian tradition, to toxic masculinity, nationalism, militarism, fascism, 2) neoliberal vapid verticality, with its flattened masculinity, normalized neurosis and addictions, and covert barbarism, or 3) to in some non-authoritarian way, restore the relation to verticality (I include those who maintain that relation within traditional religion).

For the secular liberal, following choice #2,  the ego is practically unchallenged in the context of mediated reality and social fragmentation that supports neoliberal totality.  We add to the debasement demanded by our imperial egos in countless ways.  Our stories of childhood origins are narratives of defect and weakness (i.e., I’m ADHD, family dysfunctional, Dad a drunk, I was abused, neglected, etc.), rather than  how once we saw that everything, magically,  had meaning.  Unquestionably childhood wounds must be brought to light, but they are part of the story not the whole. We slander our higher nature as we fixate on fitness and nutrition, and in other ways corroborate the conviction of low self worth (machine-hood) that is by now second nature.   Always polite, sometimes witty and clever, we liberals never express authentic opinion for fear of exposure.  Our positive will is atrophied; if it were possible to film the liberal will it would be seen to slink, flinch, evade, excuse itself, look sheepish.  This is so even if we have all outward signs of material grace.  We can pass a lie detector test only if we are not asked: why do you live?

The absence of a positive will explains why the narrative cannot be changed by will alone.  At best, like taking on a diet, we may succeed for a few repetitions, but never as permanent habit, which leaves us feeling worse, even more defeated.  We can find our true orientation only by recovering the cosmogonic grounding, that verticality represented in the North Star.  Self-worth must be positively known if we are to act positively from it.  To re-orient ourselves is not impossible, but it calls for an inward turn entirely counter to the anti-imaginative positivist stance of secular rationalist liberalism.

The Romantics, such as Coleridge, who, though admired, have been seen somewhat dismissively as an interesting stage in Western literary and philosophical tradition, now may be understood as having had it right.  The “non-romantic” path we’re on, our reduced capacity to look at great things and to “be moved to Rapture” is the cause of our arrested development as human beings. By arrested development, I mean the liberal’s capacity to be “against barbarism but not against the property relations that engender barbarism,”  to bow to “lesser of two evilism” that replaces authentic opinion. We will not escape our fate – not just the inevitable destruction civilization is hurtling towards but also our incapacity to acknowledge it – unless we can imagine our way differently, unless we find our orientation in relation to greatness as much as to “baseness.”  Superiority to MAGA Trump-followers won’t save us.  No political  uprising can take place unless accompanied by a spiritual one; we need an uprising against the liberal ego that refuses to see beyond a worldview that robs human beings of our innate power and strength.

Do we need more evidence to prove to ourselves that under neoliberalism life has “lost its radar?” Fancy if, at every public gathering, instead of pledging allegiance to the flag, someone were to tell the story of our noble origins as a people, from the bible or other traditional mythic source as the Iroquois tell of their celestial origins in the  Pleiades.  The idea would be just to sit and listen, as if to a “fairy tale;” listeners might even engage their “child’s soul,” that self once so capable of wonder that the wonderful is no surprise, to help them listen well.

My hunch is that people – all of us so frightened in these times –  would be calmed by the story.  They would listen, as if listening to poetry, not expecting what they heard to make literal sense, but letting the words speak to  some part of themselves that quite naturally and effortlessly responds to hearing of  magical origins.  Listening not with the skeptical, doubting mind, but with the heart, they could in that moment glimpse that other knowing, the one so dismissively rejected by the dominant mentality.

We each need now to make such clearings wherein the long-rejected knowledge is revealed. Imagination offers the only alternative to the illusion of control that simply keeps the barbarity and plunder going, and the only palliative to the disabling fear that lies just under that illusion.

For the past 25 or more years,  due perhaps to a fragile sanity, I have struggled to keep that alternative knowing real to my well-conditioned liberal, educated mind, as if my life depended on it. The world under capitalism, attempting to live without soul, has increased its dreadful roar to the point that I have no choice – since I refuse the reductionist lesser-of-two-evils thoughtworld – except between two options:  Either I cave into my fear orI continue to stoke the fire of the imaginal reality with my writing andalso in my marriage relationship, i.e., with the otherwho has the power, because of our intimacy, to either confirm or undermine the entire metaphysical project.  Within these two immediate grounds  are embodied my struggle to keep the imaginative realm real.

Many couples, I suspect, tacitly adapt to ways to avoid approaching the fear of non-Being at the core of themselves that threatens, in post-religious times, to capsize the consensual reality making up a marriage.  Our “culture” is nothing if not rich in distractions for persons wishing to avoid the reckoning with their souls.  Included among these well-trodden detours:  becoming compulsive consumers, avid TV watchers, technophiles, globe-trotters, workaholics at the job, etc.  For many reasons, Orin and I have mostly refused the distractions, instead committing ourselves to quixotic idealism and “lost causes” that seem to us worthwhile. Having refused the distractions, including that of “success,” we live perilously close to the existential edge. When either of us slips and falls into his/her fear, the “abyss” in the other is activated and we become lost together in a darkness with seemingly no way out.  This condition goes on indefinitely until one or the other finds the “trail of breadcrumbs” leading out from the pathless forest and back into the blessing of a “make believe” reality of spiritual connectedness to which we both give our assent.    These reconciliations are not so much patching up disputes as recovering our footing above the abyss of non-being, usually involving a “bump-up” in self-knowledge, maybe a kind of love earned.

I say “love earned” neither to be smugly superior (which would be ridiculous, given the weirdness just revealed above!), nor so you will be confirmed in your suspicion that “she’s nuts, and so must her husband be.” I do so to illustrate what it means to take up the struggle to remain human against the dehumanizing “surround,” as I have found it.  It is a way to live in immediacy, rather than entirely mediated by neoliberal totality.  I have no idea if everyone so committed has to traverse quite so treacherous a path, though, I must add,  mythologies say it unambiguously: in becoming human, everyone walks the hero’s path that has no guaranteed outcome (or income!)

Is the difficulty level for us liberalized moderns in the process I describe, just too high?  Who thought such Sisyphean effort was involved in being human, for Pete’s sake!   But, again, fancy if people came together for the purpose of sustaining each others efforts to hold together families, communities, places, local economies, local agriculture, the intact souls of children –  against the hurricane winds of commodification and atomization.  They only could do so while standing firm in their own souls against the blasts coming from within.  Might not such a localized struggle, on behalf of both individual freedom and the good of the whole, be bearable and even something to celebrate?  This is my own anarchist “hope,” which, luckily, depends not on evidence that thereis hope for the earth and for humankind, but on the inexhaustible, endlessly renewing, always teaching, creative soul.

What’s necessary is that I keep at the spinning wheel of my writing, (and Orin at his poetry) – and that we stay in the struggle to keep our domestic community of two rightly oriented. That is, I must trust enough the reality invoked through writing and study, which feels right  to my instinct and intuition,  to be able to hold on to it when one or both of us becomes disoriented,  that we might maintain our fragile prayer of having the strength to stand in against the barbaric neoliberal totality.  In keeping the creative fires burning, we, in turn, can concentrate our embattled energy in the immediacies of family, the community of our Cafe and its friends, in encouraging art-making here in “armpit,” dispirited Utica, to, in our way, build the new in the shell of the old.

Categories: News for progressives

Pythagoras in Queens

Thu, 2018-11-15 14:10

From certain spots in Brooklyn but
the top can be seen
of that high rise in Queens
Its top, just like a ziggurat
Observing — no, reminding you
of all of your debt
and your servitude
And ziggurat’s from zaqaru
Akkadian for “to be high”
To be high — to be low — below
the bridge which —
as in Babylon –
really ought to be a park
a river-spanning park –
a hanging garden — yes
And there should be a ziggurat
As ziggurats are flat on top
Which you can climb
and sit and watch
The dawn break over Brooklyn
Or the sun stain the horizon pink
the moon — like a balloon — rise
When some distance is needed
from toad-minded neighbors
(Some neighbors, you know,
when you open their skull
instead of a brain
all you’ll find is a toad — a toad
inside whose skull you’ll find
another toad
Mise en abyme —

Pythagoras, Pythagoras
Did he know Anaxagoras?
He knew Anaximander, Anaximenes,
and Thales —
having spent time in Miletus
Then he traveled down to Egypt
Was admitted to the priesthood there
To study math
He knew his share
(Copernicus confessed
it was Pythagoras
Who gave him the idea) but
that thing about the beans
must be rethought
Grow them on the bridges
on the ziggurats
Why not?
Why not make things easy?
Ease —
the skies and seas
are toxic these
days
Breathing in the poison haze
It changes brains
Deforms them
into toads
It’s so — so
What can you do?
Pythagoras studied
for 22 years
When Cambyses — Cyrus’ son
attacked and banished all
the priests to the east, to Babylon
(Pythagoras from Samos
He discovered some amazing things
The theorem, though
that bears his name
that one’s Babylonian)
A decade with the magi passed
when he was freed at long last
and returned to Samos.
But things on the island
just weren’t the same
his fame was lame
the attention: a drain
a pain in the brain

What’s in an atom?
the neutron, the proton
Pythagoras left
Put his raggedy coat on
waved
and said: Antio
Stepped aboard a ship
Stepped off in Croton.

Not Croton, New York
near the Bear Mountain Bridge
But Pythagoras did talk to bears
Yes, he did.
And to snakes
And a cow
on the far side one time
of the Gulf of Taranto
A cow eating beans — which
Pythagoras found quite disturbing
This thing
with the beans
is a mighty big problem
For all Pythagoreans

Just eat them
They’ll grow on the bridges
in plots
upon the ziggurats
All over the sides and tops of buildings
Chick peas, favas,
painted ponies, kidneys,
pintos, all of those
Pythagoras did not wear robes
but trousers, some say,
like they wore in Thrace
A place named for a sorceress
The home of both Democritus
and his student, the sophist, Protagoras
Did they discuss the Cosmos
Dressed in trousers?
Wowzers

Atoms, relativity, chremata,
the commodity, the plaque
that’ll grow on your soul
preventing any passage
through the tunnels
to the after world
And how to clean it off
by thought alone

These were, inter alia, the topics
under discussion
Sitting there in dirty trousers
Just like those cro-magnon gals
Who skinned the limbs of animals
and wore them on their own legs
Like a pair of jeans

Oh it’s obscene
Xenophanes remarked somewhere
that Thracian gods
have reddish hair
You hear about Tereus, their king
Who cut out the princess
of Athens tongue?
A tongue composed of so many atoms,
Democritus declared
Protagoras says:
though we can’t really know

Pythagoras, Pythagoras
He couldn’t know Protagoras
He couldn’t know Los Angeles
Or eat a lima bean
Not that he would if he could
though they’re good
And Dr. Freud would most likely conclude
That sometimes a cave
is only a cave,
but sometimes it’s your mother
That hole in the world
out of which we all squirmed
And now we’re here
wearing trousers
Oh brother

Freud, of course, would note as well
each bean’s a seed
And the word, as we all know,
for seed is semen –
each bean is a daemon
the bridge between the divine and the human
Entirely consistent
with Pythagorean thought
Or maybe not

We open up a can of beans
it looks like a mass grave
Peeling open cans of sardines
It’s about the same
Walking through the supermarket
Punching open plastic bottles
Oil spreads across the floor
oil spill on aisle four
But do not fear, there’s no risk here
The creatures are all safely wrapped
in plastic, well-refrigerated
Hacked to pieces, sealed in cans.
No more harm can come to them

The night grinds like a garbage truck
And was that you
all dressed in blue
a slab of gum stuck to your shoe
staring out the window of the city bus
Pythagoras?
Exhorting: do not be a moron
peel your grapefruit like an orange
Is that true? Did you say that?

Pythagoras?

And was the Buranuna River
so named for the copper ore?
you hear about that one before?
you stand along its shore
and did its level drop
the flow diverted
so Cyrus the Great
and the rest of the Persians
could breach the city walls?
You hear about that thing at all?
Or how about Tenochtitlan’s chinampas?

Why not build a bunch of those
though salty the rivers
could still water things
like beans and greens
from underneath
by way of steam — evaporation
I don’t know though
could you grow
a garden on the Harlem River?
gardens on the Brooklyn Bridge?
What do you think, Pythagoras?
Is that you
collecting your salad?

 

Categories: News for progressives

Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA

Wed, 2018-11-14 23:19

Photo Source tarsandsaction | CC BY 2.0

On Thursday, November 8, a federal court in Montana ordered a pause in the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Sounds like cause for celebration, doesn’t it?  It’s not. Nothing can stop Keystone XL, and the reason is NAFTA.

The order from Judge Brian Morris of the US District Court for the District of Montana came in a lawsuit brought by the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), North Coast Rivers Alliance, and other environmental and Native American groups.  Defendants are the US State Department, which approves trans-border oil pipelines, and TransCanada Corp., the Calgary-based corporation which is constructing KXL, a 1,179-mile long oil pipeline which will run from oil fields in Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, USA and from there via an already-existing pipeline to refineries in Texas.

In his 54-page order, Judge Morris held that the State Department had failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences of approving TransCanada’s permit application, particularly the impact the KXL pipeline would have on global climate change.  KXL will transport Canadian tar sands oil, crude with a high carbon content.  Judge Morris ordered that work on the pipeline be suspended until the State Department could conduct further environmental studies.  Judge Morris’ serious treatment of global climate change places him in sharp contrast with President Donald Trump who dismisses climate change as a Chinese hoax.

Up until last year, Keystone XL seemed to be dead in the water, sent to the bottom in 2015 by Barack Obama.  At that point, TransCanada had already spent $2.5 billion on the project. Enter Donald Trump, stage far right. Candidate Trump had praised Keystone XL, tweeting that KXL would “create thousands of jobs” and that there was “no downside” to the project.  Once Trump took office things almost immediately started looking up for TransCanada.  On only his fourth full day in office, Trump invited TransCanada to resubmit its application for a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline.  (Justin Trudeau, Canadian prime minister and heartthrob of American liberals, applauded Trump’s decision.)  Two days later, TransCanada resubmitted its application.  Trump’s State Department approved the permit for KXL in March 2017.

Given this history, it should be no surprise that Trump is furious over Judge Morris’ decision to suspend construction of Keystone XL.  On Thursday, Trump called the decision a “disgrace” which would cost 48,000 jobs.

Oh, by the way, Judge Morris is an Obama appointee.

Wrecking the Environment for Fun and Profit (Mostly Profit)

TransCanada lawyered up immediately upon President Barack Obama’s cancellation of its $8 billion Keystone XL project.  On January 6, 2016, TransCanada filed a federal lawsuit and a claim for arbitration under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

TransCanada’s NAFTA claim alleges that Obama’s cancellation of Keystone XL violated NAFTA’s Chapter 11.  TransCanada requested $15 billion in damages, including lost profits. TransCanada suspended its NAFTA claim after Trump came to power.  The big question now is whether Judge Morris’ decision on Thursday will make TransCanada renew its NAFTA challenge.

Neoliberalism regards tariffs, environmental protection, food safety rules, and the protection of workers’ rights as barriers to free trade.  Eliminating barriers to trade is central to NAFTA, WTO, the late TPP, and other multinational free trade agreements.  To that end, NAFTA and the TPP (described as “NAFTA on steroids”) allow corporations to directly challenge domestic laws through arbitration, a process known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).[1]  ISDS empowers private tribunals with corporate lawyers in the guise of judges.  These trade tribunals are not democratically accountable to the voters of any nation.

You may have read that these arbitral tribunals have the power to nullify national laws and regulations protecting the environment, labor rights, and food safety.  Strictly speaking, that isn’t true.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is it doesn’t matter.  On occasion, states have found it necessary to change their laws—even their constitutions—in order to comply with the dictates of NAFTA or the WTO.  In the Venezuela Gasdispute, the US had to change an EPA Rule after an arbitral tribunal found that the rule’s air pollution standards conflicted with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), WTO’s predecessor.[2]

NAFTA’s Chapter 11 sets out a series of protections for foreign investors (typically large multinational corporations).  We begin with nondiscrimination.  States must treat foreign investors no worse than the state’s own investors (NAFTA Article 1102).  TransCanada accuses the Obama Administration of discrimination against it. The Obama Administration took seven years before finally denying TransCanada’s permit application.  The Administration took nowhere near that long to review permit applications from US pipeline companies.  Plus, during those seven years, the Obama Administration approved permit applications from US pipeline companies.[3]  TransCanada claims that the US used one set of standards to review US companies’ applications, and another set of standards to review TransCanada’s application. Notice of Intent ¶60.  TransCanada maintains that if the US had applied one, nondiscriminatory set of standards, Keystone XL would have been approved.

In addition to the obligation not to discriminate, NAFTA requires states to extend“fair and equitable treatment” to all investors (Article 1105).  In essence, states must not frustrate investors’ “reasonable expectations.”  TransCanada declares that it had “reasonable expectations” that its permit request would be approved.  Administration officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had made favorable statements about KXL.  TransCanada had made changes to the project at the Administration’s behest, including rerouting a section of the pipeline.  The Obama Administration had approved similar pipelines.  And TransCanada knew of no instance when the US had everturned down an application to build a pipeline across an international border.  Notice of Intent ¶2, 3, 6, 20.

NAFTA allows states to be “sensitive to environmental concerns” (Article 1114).  This could defeat TransCanada’s claim.  The Obama Administration’s stated reason for turning down TransCanada’s permit application was concern about global climate change.  TransCanada says that’s baloney.  No fewer than 6 Administration reviews uniformly concluded that KXL would have a negligible impact on climate change.  TransCanada maintains that politics, not the merits of the application, was the real reason the permit was denied.  Notice of Intent ¶¶8, 43-49.  TransCanada notes that President Obama canceled Keystone XL two weeks before the Paris Climate Summit.  President Obama had said that he wanted to establish US leadership in fighting climate change.  It’s hard to do that if you’ve just approved a massive oil pipeline.

It will be fascinating to watch how TransCanada’s NAFTA challenge plays out if TransCanada decides to resume it.  And entertaining.  Trump wants TransCanada to prevail.  This means that Trump will have to root for NAFTA, an agreement he has derided. The rest of us will root for the future of our planet.  For the planet’s sake, it’s time to end the reign of King Carbon.  For the planet to win, neoliberalism must lose.

Notes.

[1]  The WorldTrade Organization operates a little differently.  Only states can challenge other states in the WTO. A current example is China’s WTO challenge to Trump’s steel tariffs.  However, large corporations don’t find it too difficult to get their home state to bring a WTO challenge for them.

[2]  To his credit, Trumprepeatedly spoke out against NAFTA and the TPP on the campaign trail.  (Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, had championed TPP for years.)  If there is anything we have to thank Donald Trump for (granted, there’s not much) it is Trump’s withdrawing the US from the TPP. As for ISDS, it is cut back, but not entirely eliminated, in the new iteration of NAFTA unveiled in September.

[3]  See TransCanada’s Notice of Intent to Submit a Claim to Arbitration under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (hereafter “Notice of Intent”), Jan. 6, 2016 ¶¶4, 20, 57.

Categories: News for progressives

Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take

Wed, 2018-11-14 16:05

Photo Source U.S. Embassy Jerusalem | CC BY 2.0

Israel has made a colossal mockery of the concept of security.

In debating an Israeli friend from Jerusalem, I challenged him that Israel consciously plans and uses its military might to damage the Palestinian’s national project to build a state and free itself from Israeli control. Avner, my Israeli friend, argued otherwise, buying into the Israeli state narrative that Israel is “forced” to take measures which negatively affect Palestinians because Israeli security requires it. My knee-jerk reaction as someone living and working under Israeli military occupation for over two decades, was that this was hogwash and, short of ending its illegal (note: legal occupations are temporary by definition) occupation of Palestinians, I claimed that Israel—the occupying power—could immediately take 101 measures to reduce tensions on the ground, without jeopardizing any true and rational security needs. He shrugged and said, “tell me”?

In the years to follow, I have given numerous talks on the state of affairs under Israeli occupation to groups visiting Palestine from all corners of the world. A large number of those talks were to Jewish-American groups—many participants being rabbinical students and mainstream Jewish influencers hosted by the U.S. not-for-profit Encounter—who traveled to Palestine for an Encounter Program. In a recent Encounter talk, one rabbi attentively listened as I made the same claim, Israel can take 101 actions tomorrow morning without jeopardizing security. He raised his hand and asked, where can we get that list?

So, here it is. A quick compilation, with the generous assistance of several friends here in Palestine, and with a few items selected from the umpteen reports being published about the rapidly deteriorating state of affairs. This list is not intended to be comprehensive by any means, but rather a look beyond the daily headlines to give readers, especially those who have bought into the Israeli propaganda—hook, line and sinker—that this military occupation is all about “security”.

I attempted to place a few subtitles to categorize the list, although many items are multifaceted. Space does not allow for a full explanation of each proposed action, so if anyone wants to be directed to a more in-depth explanation of any listed action, or otherwise, please feel free to reach out at the email listed below.

Before offering the list, I must state upfront and clearly, my goal in presenting these ideas is not to assist the powers-that-be to design an embellished military occupation intended as permanent. Rather, my purpose is to reveal Israel’s underlying intentions, its indefinite time frame for continued domination, and the cornucopia of diverse types of actions carefully calculated to humiliate each and every Palestinian, while structurally blocking a path to Palestinian statehood, otherwise known as the two-state solution. That noted, for those who simply cannot fathom the notion of a Palestinian state free from Israeli occupation, I welcome all efforts to get my list addressed while the occupation continues, which would align Israel’s actions somewhat better with the law of occupation, the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention, 12 August 1949).

101 actions Israel could take

Gaza

1) Allow for free movement of goods to/from Gaza

2) Open the Erez [Passenger] Crossing to the West Bank 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the nearly 2 million Palestinian residents of Gaza

3) Permit Palestinians to tap their natural gas wells discovered in the sea of Gaza in 2000

4) Allow access to the Gaza Strip’s land

5) Allow access to the Gaza Strip’s territorial waters, expanding Gaza’s fishing zone: The Government of Israel halved Gaza’s fishing zone from 6 nautical miles to 3 nautical miles; compare that to the twenty-nautical mile limit set by the Oslo Accords. (World Bank)

6) Allow access to the Gaza Strip’s air space, releasing 3G frequencies for wireless internet access for Gaza

7) Keep the Karm Abu Salem cargo crossing open (World Bank)

8) Allow solar panels into Gaza (World Bank)

Jerusalem

9) Stop stripping Jerusalemites of their Jerusalem residency status

10) Eliminate arbitrary taxation regime being applied to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, especially those in the Old City

11) Increase public services to East Jerusalem to align with the level of taxation paid by East Jerusalem residents and with their proportion of the entire city’s population

12) Allow daily mechanism for Palestinians’ freedom of religion, not only on the occasional holidays (entry to Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, e.g.)

Education

13) Remove barriers inside the West Bank between children and their schools

14) Stop soldiers at checkpoints from harassing school age students, stop the delaying and excessive searching of students (and teachers) coming to/from Jerusalem through the Qalandia checkpoint, especially of those who are unaccompanied by parents

15) Provide teachers open access to their workplaces, i.e. crossing checkpoints, etc.

16) Eliminate routine Israeli military forces incursions into schools

17) Allow academic/educational institutions to operate comfortably and freely within Palestinian communities in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), including East Jerusalem

18) Recognize/accredit the degrees granted by all Palestinian higher educational institution as legitimate credentials for continuing education in Israel or for professional work permits

19) Stop delaying release of textbook shipments

20) Stop delaying release of, and desist from tampering with, examination papers and answer sheets coming from the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO)

21) Stop banning basic laboratory supplies for students’ laboratory experiments

22) Grant permits for school education/recreational trips: an entire generation has never seen the sea

23) Stop systematically targeting schools in marginalized areas like Khan al-Ahmar in the Jordan Valley

24) Allow importing of educational accessories and tools: During the Microsoft International Student Competition, smart pens, circuits, and other similar materials required by participants were discarded at the Israeli border on the pretext that these educational materials were a threat to Israel’s security

25) Allow student travel. During the Microsoft International Student Competition, the Palestinian team won first place over 23 Arab countries in the innovation category and were qualified to compete in the US. One of the students, despite the student having no security issues, and with an official invitation from Microsoft and the US consulate in hand, was unable to get Israeli permission to enter Jerusalem to process his US visa.

Humanitarian

26) Stop the arrests, especially of children: Number of Palestinians who have been held in Israeli jails for periods ranging from 1 week to life, 1967-1988: 600,000; number of Palestinians arrested during the first intifada (1987-94): 175,000

27) Stop the torture: Documented percentage of Palestinian detainees who have been tortured during interrogation: 85%

28) Stop the deportations: Documented number of Palestinians deported between 1967 and 1992: 1,522; between 1970 and 1973: 785; in 1992: 415; number deported from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, 2002-2004: 32

29) Stop the house demolitions: Documented number of Palestinian homes in the oPt demolished by Israeli authorities, June 1967-March 2009: 24,145

30) Stop the killings: Killings during the two Intifadas: Number of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces and civilians, December 9, 1987 to September 28, 2000: in the oPt: 1,489; within the Green Line: 60. Number killed, September 28, 2000 – September 28, 2004: 3,234

31) Release the bodies of killed Palestinians to their families

32) Stop ripping apart bicultural families: Provide clear and easy access via family re-unification for foreign nationals married to Palestinians

33) Stop arbitrary denial of entries and restrictions on visiting foreign nationals, allowing Palestinian firms to recruit Palestinian and international talent abroad by issuance of work visas/permits for any such person who does not have a Palestinian identity card.

34) Respect Palestinian water rights as defined under international law and honor applicable, signed bilateral water-related agreements

35) Stop spraying of herbicides intended to destroy crops, especially on outskirts of the Gaza Strip

36) Respect the Bedouin community’s way of life, stop the displacement of Bedouin communities

Municipalities

37) Reclassify areas currently classified as Area C if they are within defined city boundaries

38) Expedite landfill approvals: The regional landfill in Rammun (center of West Bank) took about 15 years for the Israeli side to approve

39) Expedite cemetery approvals: The new Ramallah cemetery project took about 12 years for the Israeli side to approve

40) Expedite water/sanitation approvals: The project for a central purification plant in Ein Griot has been waiting for Israeli approval for years now

41) Expedite approvals for new or improved transportation routes: The desperately needed Ramallah ring road project, a case in point, has submitted all required details and continues to await Israeli approval

Economic

42) Stop the illegal dumping of Israeli goods and services into the Palestinian markets, Stop unlicensed Israeli firms, such as Israeli telecommunications firms, from illegally selling their services to the Palestinian Authority (PA) areas

43) Stop the arbitrary delays in importation of technology products

44) Release 4G frequencies for West Bank and Gaza

45) Allow for free movement of goods within the oPt

46) Allow for unfettered imports

47) Allow for unfettered exports

48) Allow the entry of Palestinian goods into the Israeli market, as the Paris Protocol (4/94) provided for in a unique economic and trade regime named the Customs Envelope

49) Stop using an Israeli-specific “Dual Use List” for Palestinians, causing unjustified additional restrictions to importation of goods into Gaza and considerable delays and difficulties for West Bank economic projects, such as the Bethlehem Industrial Estate (BMIP)

50) Stop the extensive security checks within the West Bank which pose an economic obstacle to trade

51) Allow for delivery of large machinery/equipment/vehicles related to PA and international projects, especially for agriculture and construction

52) Eliminate all military checkpoints between Palestinian cities/villages inside the oPt

53) Provide humane/non-segregated access to Palestinians via air, sea and land ports

54) Provide PA security forces full access to all oPt areas

55) Provide PA police full control of all oPt roads

56) Stop issuing licenses to Israeli firms quarrying of Palestinian lands in the oPt

57) Remove closures to all entrances to villages and cities in the oPt, as some residents travel 90-120 additional minutes to reach destinations literally minutes away

58) Allow Palestinians full privileges on “Israeli-only” roads

59) Allow 24/7 access on Israeli-issued travel permits

60) Allow Palestinians with multiday Israeli travel permits to lawfully stay overnight in Jerusalem and Israel

61) Eliminate the recent requirement of a so called “Magnetic Card” required to apply for an Israeli travel permit to Jerusalem or Israel

62) Eliminate the so called “BMC – Businessman’s Card” required to apply for a multi month Israeli travel permit to Jerusalem or Israel, which artificially segments Palestinian society

63) Allow ease of rehabilitation of deteriorating old cities, especially in Hebron and Jerusalem

64) De-monopolize the Israeli/Jerusalem tourism sector (tourism operators, guides, licenses, etc.), ending the demand to adhere to the “Israeli narrative”

65) Apply and enforce the laws and adjudicate violations equally with respect to all residents/citizens under Israeli jurisdiction as an occupying power

66) De-legitimize “open carry” of weapons for Israeli settlers or accord Palestinian farmers the same privileges

67) Secure Palestinian farmers yearlong access to their farm land, not only partial harvesting seasons

68) Maximize allowed farming area, especially near settlements

69) Expedite issuance of land deeds (Tabu), especially in Area C

70) Allow legal building in Areas B and C

71) Allow access to natural water sources in Area C

72) Allow postal mail and packages to reach the Palestinian Post in a timely manner: In August 2018 Israel dumped 10 tons of mail they held up from 2010

Israeli Crossings and Ports

Border Crossings with Jordan / Allenby/King Hussein Bridge (KHB)

73) Open this sole passenger crossing to Jordan 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the nearly 3 million Palestinian residents of West Bank

74) Increase the number of vehicles, load capacity of cargo loading and unloading, and operating hours at the KHB

75) Streamline the logistics for imports entering the oPt: For example, cement silos could be constructed to store bulk cement until transferred by Palestinian trucks into the Palestinian territory.

Border Crossings with Israel

76) Stop restrictions on shipments through cargo crossings from the oPt into Israel, such as limited number and capacity of cargo crossings, limited working hours, and strict security restrictions: This encourages tax evasion and unfair competition in the form of goods smuggled into the oPt by Israeli trucks that freely enter the Palestinian areas via the crossings and need not unload their cargos, unlike the Palestinian trucks. Moreover, Israeli cargo trucks are not subject to inspection by the Palestinian Authorities.

77) Stop random sampling security checks of cargo which cause cargo damage, as well as, long security checks of perishable cargo which is damaged when delayed for a long period for security inspection purposes.

78) Logistical arrangements for the entrance of goods into the Gaza Strip is an ultra-complicated and troublesome task. In addition to the very long waiting hours at Erez Crossing, the facility has unsystematic working hours with the constant possibility of sudden closure for “security” reasons.

Container Ports

79) Allow direct imports to the oPt via a Palestinian clearing agent. Currently, all kinds of raw materials and goods need to be imported through an Israeli agent. Such a procedural requirement incurs high costs for the Palestinian importer for security and customs inspection. Additionally, the Palestinian importer incurs fees of relevant bonded Israeli warehouses and storage facilities as long as the cargo is withheld in the Israeli ports for inspection purposes, sometimes weeks, months or years on end.

80) Allow Palestinians to define their own import needs. Currently the quantity, quality, destination of imported goods and materials are determined according to the outdated Paris Protocol, which provides the annual ceiling of imports per country of origin.

Area C

81) Stop the prohibition of construction in Area C: Obtaining a permit to construct any factory or plant in Area C is made unbearably difficult and the process should be streamlined, simplified, and not subject to arbitrary regulations and delays.

82) As things stand, permits issued for Area C are time-bound and must be renewed on an annual basis, causing significant delays and a barrier to investment; revise these regulations to streamline the process.

83) Streamline the exhausting “security”-driven bureaucratic procedures to establish land titles, especially in Area

84) Expand spatial plans for Palestinian villages in Area C (World Bank)

85) Grant approval to Palestinian business projects in Area C (World Bank)

Constraints on Movement and Permits

86) Issue and abide by clear and lawful policies and procedures for obtaining all types of visas for foreign visitors, including granting visas to international faculty as they return for a new academic year and eliminating denial of long-term visas to international and regional experts working in the oPt

87) Lift the military ban on Palestinian commercial drivers’ entering Israel with a Palestinian-registered vehicle: This ban is enormously expensive for Palestinian employers, who bear the added logistical costs to rent an Israeli truck for the Israeli side of the route travelled, incurring more than double the rental cost of the Palestinian truck alone.

88) Allow for permits to manage commercial operations within Israeli areas, such as the management of warehouses in these areas. Currently, the limitations on permits issued shackle Palestinian firms’ ability to manage their internal affairs.

89) Allow Palestinian clearing agents access to Israeli ports at Ashdod, Haifa or Eilat. Currently, an Israeli agent needs to be hired as a go-between with the Palestinian importer.

90) Many Palestinian companies are active in both the West Bank and Gaza. Allow permits for West Bank company staff to enter the Gaza Strip and vice versa. At present, absent such permits, staff is unable to follow up on work in progress, attend meetings, or participate in training courses.

91) Permit Palestinian firms’ shareholders to travel to/from the West Bank/Gaza Strip to attend the annual general meetings of firms they are invested in. At present, to work around this, firms incur the extra expense of arranging two venues for a meeting; one in the West Bank and the other in the Gaza Strip, to ensure an equal opportunity for all the shareholders in Palestine to attend the meetings, which are connected by video conferencing.

Legal Issues

92) Streamline legal actions for Palestinian firms having issues with Israeli citizens/cheques; currently, the problem of the Israeli citizen/firm’s being subject to another jurisdiction creates manifold obstacles to prompt resolution.

93) Recognize a third country arbitration between Israeli and Palestinian businesses. If a commercial dispute arises between Palestinian and Israeli parties, Israeli laws requires that arbitration be made in Israeli areas for security purposes and for the safety of the Israeli party. This practice is a clear violation of customary international practices and norms that the seat of arbitration should be in a third and neutral country.

94) Stop the military ban on a large number of Gazan traders who have been commercially banned by Israel without due process, rendering them unable to sell or purchase goods and materials.

Quality inspection

95) Stop the discrimination in dealing with standards certificates. The required Israeli quality inspection of imports transshipped through Israel and acquiring of the Israeli Standards Certificate require a lot of time that might extend up to six months with high costs. Currently, Israeli shipments require one certificate for every product being imported, despite the number of times imported, whereas the Palestinian importer must get a new certificate for every shipment of the same product, adding time and cost to every importation of goods.

96) Allow Israeli products entering the Palestinian market to get a Palestinian Standards Certificate. Currently, the Palestinian market is flooded with Israeli products that bypass Palestinian standards certification.

Financial

97) Stop withholding/delaying the various monetary transfers to the Gaza Strip, imposing extra costs to cover transfers

98) Pay the Palestinian Authority seigniorage for their use of Israeli currency

99) Stop delays in transferring payments to Palestinian government, further indebting the PA: VAT and Import duties collected by the Government of Israel (GoI) on behalf of the PA and should be transferred monthly based on an arrangement instituted by the Paris protocol. (World Bank)

100) Stop unilateral deductions from Palestinian funds, further indebting the PA: These are deductions made by the GoI from clearance revenues to settle utility bills owed by Palestinian Local Government Units (LGUs), utilities and distribution companies to Israeli suppliers. (World Bank)

101) Transfer to the Palestinian Authority fiscal losses accumulated over the years. The signed agreements defined specific arrangements through which the GoI collects VAT, import duties and other income, or the so-called clearance revenues, on behalf of the PA and shares it with the latter on a monthly basis. Some of these arrangements have become outdated and others have not been implemented as envisaged by the agreements, resulting in fiscal losses for the PA. The quantified annual loss (excluding revenues collected by the GoI in Area C that could not be quantified due to data constraints) amounts to USD 285 million, or 2.2 percent of Palestinian GDP. (World Bank)

So, here you have it, a detailed sampling of what the Israeli military occupation means from ground zero. These and dozens of other Israeli restrictions are what mainly underlie the inability of Palestinians, individually and collectively, to create a different reality on the ground, let alone properly prepare for a free and independent state.

A longtime Jewish-American attorney friend with whom I shared this list as a draft in process responded unequivocally: These issues, he said, are notIsraeli security threats; on the contrary. If they were rationally addressed, the results would serveIsraeli security needs. With that, one must step back a bit and reflect on what Israel’s real intentions might be in sustaining its 50-year military occupation through the use of this vast web of “security” regulations.

Sam Bahour is managing partner of Applied Information Management (AIM), a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, a secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group, and chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy. He blogs at www.epalestine.com. Twitter: @SamBahour

Categories: News for progressives

How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:58

Photo Source UNICEF Ecuador | CC BY 2.0

Millions of children die every year as a result of environment-related diseases. Their deaths could be prevented by using low-cost and sustainable tools and strategies for improving the environment. In some countries, more than one-third of the disease burden could be prevented by environmental changes. According to a WHO study carried out in 23 countries, more than 10 percent of deaths are due to unsafe water and indoor air pollution, particularly from solid fuel used for cooking.

Children make up almost half the population of developing countries. Most of the deaths are among children under five and are attributable mainly to intestinal and respiratory infections. People living in industrialized countries are also affected by environmental factors such as pollution, occupational factors, ultraviolet radiation, and climate and ecosystem changes.

The integrity of the global environment is being increasingly compromised by the deterioration of the atmospheric ozone layer and an ever-higher concentration of gases responsible for the greenhouse effect. To the degree that these factors intensify, the health of populations will be seriously affected.

Environmental factors affect children’s health from the time of conception and intra-uterine development through infancy and adolescence. These factors can even exert an influence prior to conception since both ovules and sperm can be damaged by radiation and chemical contaminants.

It has been widely demonstrated that children are more susceptible than adults to environmental factors because, among other reasons, they are still growing and their immune systems and detoxification mechanisms are not yet fully developed.

Interventions both at the community and the national level can significantly improve the environment, including the promotion of safe-water treatment and storage, and the reduction of air pollution. The last measure by itself could save almost a million lives a year.

A series of measures being taken at the local level are having a significant impact on improving the environment. For example, in an overcrowded and unsanitary inner-city building housing several hundred people in South Africa, conventional environmental health control measures had failed. So, a democratically elected tenants committee initiated a series of measures to deal with the main problems affecting the building and its inhabitants. This project has laid the foundation for a participatory way of dealing with environmental problems in inner-city buildings.

In Cairo, Egypt, Dr. Laila Iskandar Kamel has implemented innovative social and environmental projects working with garbage collectors or Zabbaleen. These projects have helped garbage collectors break the cycle of exploitation and receive proper compensation for their work. In addition, she has organized girls from the community in reviving the most ancient of Egyptian crafts, weaving on a handloom using discarded cotton remnants and using the profits for improving their education and providing them with a livelihood.

In Qatar, fewer natural resources, climate change and the quality of the air are serious challenges faced by the authorities. The Ministry of Environment has taken a series of measures to improve the environment. Among those measures, creating awareness in the population, particularly among the mothers, is an important task. At the same time, a new school curriculum has been completed, placing emphasis on environmental issues.

In the countries in the Americas, an outstanding series of environmental activities are carried out by Ecoclubs, nongovernmental organizations made up basically of children and adolescents who coordinate their activities through several community institutions.

In Ecuador, the city of Loja was afflicted with dumping yards in inhabited areas, which led to outbreaks of infections and contagious diseases. Through an intensive sensitization and education campaign in which community members played a key role in establishing a sanitary landfill and a means for properly disposing of recyclable materials, there was a manifest improvement in the quality of life for Loja residents.

Children, in particular, increased their awareness about the environment and their role in improving it. The planning, design, monitoring, and management of the physical environment have proven to be an ideal terrain for children’s inputs and participation.

Such initiatives are taking place worldwide with the aim of improving the environment and, as a result, people’s health. More actions should be carried out in the main cities worldwide to protect all people, but particularly the most vulnerable. To curb pollution is expensive. More expensive, however, is the price paid in children’s lives.

Categories: News for progressives

What Tester’s Win Means

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:56

Photo Source Senate Democrats | CC BY 2.0

Montanans should be proud of their fellow citizens for sending Jon Tester back to the Senate on Election Day. Faced with the ugliest display of crude and degrading campaigning against him by the president, his son, the vice president and other out-of-state politicians, Tester — a true Montanan born and raised under our big sky — managed to prevail without once resorting to the lowlife tactics of his opponents.

Not in recent memory has any sitting president come to Montana four times to campaign against an incumbent Montana senator. As President Trump made widely known, he considered it his revenge mission to unseat Tester, claiming that it was “personal” because Tester torpedoed Trump’s nominee to head the Veterans Administration.

But in truth, Trump’s nominee, Ronnie Jackson, withdrew voluntarily after Tester released details provided to him concerning Jackson’s proclivity to pass out prescription drugs like candy and drink on the job. That Jackson bailed prior to his Senate confirmation hearing says a great deal about the validity of the concerns raised by Tester who, as a senator, has a constitutionally mandated duty to “advise and consent” on high-level administration nominees.

Had Trump, his son and surrogates stuck to the issues, it’s possible they may have been successful in unseating Tester since prior to this election he has never pulled a majority in his two campaigns. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, Trump berated Tester personally and his son went far over the edge of civility, calling Tester “a piece of garbage” and claiming that he, the son of a New York billionaire, knew more about Montana and Montanans than did Tester — a foolish and false claim that backfired spectacularly as Montanans were repelled by his crude and childish name-calling.

For his part, Tester not only refused to be sucked into the ugliness of Trumpian politics, he actually ran a statewide ad the day of the president’s early attacks welcoming him to Montana and suggesting he take a look around and consider the real issues facing the state. To his great credit, Tester continued this tact throughout the campaign, saying the race was between him and his Republican challenger Matt Rosendale as individuals and that’s how Montanans should weigh their choice at the ballot box.

In a day in which Trump saw a host of defeats across the nation resulting in the loss of the Republican majorities in the House of Representatives and potentially an ignominious end to his rampant and corrupt administration’s backwards policies, Tester’s win in Montana stands out as one of Trump’s most significant losses.

National pundits continually pointed to Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton in Montana by 20 percentage points. They forget that Clinton never even bothered to campaign in Montana, apparently considering us “flyover country” and not worthy of her precious time. They also never consider the fact that Bernie Sanders actually won the Montana primary against Clinton — only to be stabbed in the back by the Democratic National Committee and having Montana’s primary preference betrayed by most of our state delegates who voted for Clinton at the Democratic national nominating convention. For the majority of Montanans who voted for Bernie in the Demo primary, such betrayal and corruption was untenable and many decided simply not to vote for Clinton in the general election — hence Trump’s much-flaunted 20-point advantage.

But that’s water under the bridge. Now Sen. Jon Tester goes back to Washington to represent Montana in the Senate — and Montanans can be proud that, in our state, civility prevailed over Trump’s crude and insulting campaigning.

Categories: News for progressives

Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:55

David and I recently spent a couple weeks in the company of a group of Romanians who had come to the U.S. to learn what we had to offer about coexisting with grizzly bears, which are of the same species, Ursus arctos, as their local “brown bears.” They had come to Seeley Lake, Montana, for a week-long workshop sponsored by Humane Society International (HSI), because, in the words of Gabriel “Gaby” Paun of Agent Green, a Romanian environmental group: “we are losing our bears, not learning.” Afterwards, Gaby, Laszlo Gal, Levante (“Levi”) Peter and Lajos Berde (see their photos below) spent another week based at our place where they covered an astonishing amount of Yellowstone by car and foot, and where we continued our fascinating conversations about people and bears.

We Americans alternate between bragging and complaining about the roughly 700 grizzlies that live, isolated, in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. But Romania’s Carpathian Mountains support 10-times more bears, an astonishing 7,000 or so, in an area of roughly the same size – more than in all other European countries combined, and, of them all, the most genetically robust. I came into the workshop believing that we have as much or more to learn from Romanians as they do from us, and I believe that even more strongly now. (For more, listen to this delightful interview with Manon Dene, Paris-based advocate for HSI, Episode 31– and here is my can’t-miss interview with Gaby, Episodes 32 and 33).

Bears everywhere require ample habitat and human tolerance if they are to survive. But tolerance is often hard to come by, no matter where people live. Despite major historical, cultural, and political differences, Americans and Romanians have much in common:  a tendency to be careless with garbage, to whine about government regulations, to resist basic precautionary measures, and to take frustrations out on bears (and wolves) for what is not working in our lives. With more and more of us, the world of bears everywhere is shrinking, with climate change compounding the problems we create. We humans need to surmount limitations of all sorts—fear, ignorance, greed, lack of resources, even peevishness—if bears are to have any chance of surviving.

That is why our guests came to see what we consider to be models of successful coexistence, in the Blackfoot River drainage and Swan Valley of western Montana. Ranchers and other collaborators involved in the Blackfoot Challenge have succeeded in reducing conflicts with bears by over 90% since the early 2000s—stringing electric fence around calving areas, promptly removing (and composting) dead livestock, employing phone trees to notify neighbors when a grizzly is nearby. In the more densely forested Swan Valley, another nonprofit organization, Swan Valley Connections, fosters coexistence by providing residents with bear-resistant garbage storage systems and installing electric fence around chicken pens.

These efforts enjoy one thing that is scarce in Romania: money and a full-time staff.  In the US, numerous donors and nonprofit organizations have dedicated themselves to tackling on-the-ground coexistence challenges—an altogether rare phenomenon in less affluent eastern European countries such as Romania.

But if Romania is poor, why does it boast so many bears?

Of Lush Habitat and A Legacy of Communism

Answer: abundant nuts from beech and oak trees plus berries and domestic fruit makes the Carpathians dream bear habitat. (See some photos below). Its forests, which comprise some of the largest tracts of hardwoods left in temperate zones of the earth, have remained (more or less) intact during the 20th Century largely because of prohibitions against logging and development by authoritarian rulers.

Until his assassination in 1989, Romania’s brutal dictator, Nicolae Ceausecu, protected the forests with an iron fist. A passionate brown bear hunter, he preserved bears so that he and his cronies, and none others, could have the pleasure of periodically gunning them down. He demanded that bears be fed corn to ensure they would grow large and be easy targets when his helicopter landed nearby. He was known to have slaughtered dozens of bears in a single day. One of his trophies weighed 1400 pounds.

But there are other factors that have contributed to sustaining Romania’s wealth of bears. There are stringent restrictions on gun ownership, which means that sheep herders in the high country must rely instead on their wits, guardian dogs, and careful penning of herds at night. In fact, people and bears have lived cheek by jowl in a sort of negotiated truce for thousands of years—in contrast to the western US where newly arrived European settlers immediately dedicated themselves to slaughtering grizzlies. It probably also hasn’t hurt that Romania has been an economic backwater, which has curbed avaricious multi-national companies bent on ruthlessly exploiting its natural resources—at least until recently. And, Romanians are, by and large, very proud of their bears. But the real story, of course, is more complicated.

Romania’s Surprising Ban on Trophy Hunting

In an amazing move, the Romanian government banned trophy hunting in 2016, not just for bears but also wolves, lynx and wildcats. (See Grizzly Times piece on the ban here.) For the previous 15 years, following the fall of Communism, rich hunters from especially Germany, Italy and Spain descended on Romania’s forests to gun down big brown bears over stations where the bears had been lured to feed on corn, candy, and other human offal. Needless-to-say, trophy hunting 600 or so brown bears a year became big business, with hunters shelling out the equivalent of $15,000 to bag a bear.

The kicker was that Romania joined the European Union in 2007. The EU’s Habitat Directive ostensibly banned member states from trophy hunting bears and other carnivores. But, for as long as they could, Romania’s politicians ignored this prohibition in practice, taking advantage of a loophole that allowed hunting as a way to resolve documented livestock conflicts.

Then in the fall of 2016, Romania’s Environment Minister, Christiana Pasca Palmer, stopped the charade, noting that “hunting for money was already illegal, but it was given a green light anyway.” Her decision cited science, much of it conducted in the US and Canada, that shows that hunting exacerbates rather than alleviates conflicts with livestock. Simply put, removing a dominant male allows young, out-of-control males to move into his home range and run amok. (For more on this, listen to Grizzly Times’ interview,  Episode 29 with Dr. Rob Wielgus, one of the leading researchers on how hunting impacts large carnivores).

Even though hunting permits are still granted to kill individual problem bears, Romania has since witnessed a backlash, along the lines of what we are now seeing in Greater Yellowstone, where mortality has spiked in a spate of apparent revenge-killing in the wake of the court-ordered restoration of Endangered Species Act protections last month.

Vigilante Injustice

There as here, trophy hunters have not gone gentle into that good night. They continue to agitate nationally and at the EU level to resume a hunt.  But their campaign seems unlikely to succeed at this juncture, in part because of the widespread view in Romania that trophy hunting is just another example of cronyism, corruption and elitism.

At the workshop, we saw first-hand one of the lead agitators. Harghita County President Csaba Borboly brought five minions to Seeley Lake—partly as a condition for his supporting efforts by workshop organizers to obtain funds from the EU.  Mr. Borboly could have passed for a mafia Don or a Safari Club director. Take your pick. Unsmiling and with dead eyes, he held forth for the first two days, making many of the Romanians in the room visibly nervous. Some of his choice quotes included:

“With so many bears, we have something of a war on people… We have many bears right now in our cities that are attacking people, who are afraid and cannot protect themselves. (Truth: conflicts in Romania, as here, are rare).

“People are not allowed to go out on the street after 6 pm because of the bears.” (Truth: a complete fabrication).

“The NGO’s don’t care about people or the safety of our communities. They just come and live on our backs, destroying the solutions we come up with [hunting] and generating mass media.” (Truth: Yes, most NGOs generate media to oppose trophy hunting, which does not equate to lack of concern for people).

“The biggest problem is that solutions come from Brussels, Bucharest, and ignore people.” (Just replace “Brussels” with “DC,” and this line could be heard in any coffee shop in Cody, Wyoming).

Listening to Borboly, I wondered if proponents of trophy hunting all work from the same secret playbook. But more importantly, what is it about some people that causes them to demonize predators and lust for trophies? Why do some humans fabricate demons of any sort to exploit in their pursuit of power and money? Romanians hardly have a corner on this market, but incidents of violence against the country’s bears (and wolves) are deeply disturbing. Here is a particularly tragic tale of a terrified cub that was gunned down by police off a rooftop after being dumped in town by some Romanian malefactor.

Even in a country with considerable restrictions on gun ownership, there are a hundred ways to kill a bear. Poison seems to be particularly popular, in a slow acting concoction to make sure the animal dies miles away from where he ingested it. In a 2017 story by The Guardian, Borboly recommended: “carbide in wax to burn the bear’s stomach, bread soaked in antifreeze, rat poison dipped in honey.”

Csaba Domokos, a bear specialist with Milvus Group, an NGO in the Harghita region,  made this observation: “When [Borboly] says something, even if it is completely insane, you have to listen because you know that everyone else around here is…“[Borboly] has convinced everyone in these rural regions that the only thing standing between them and total mayhem is hunters. Without hunting, he has helped encourage the belief that vigilante killing of bears is the only way for people to keep themselves and their children safe. And we don’t know where that ends.”

Borboly reminded me of the reprobates around Cody who are actively encouraging acts of violence against grizzlies. Such “Terror Entrepreneurs” deliberately incite fear in others, adding fuel to the fire of existing frustrations. But this dynamic is fundamentally built on victimizing something or somebody, human or animal—the more marginalized and voiceless, the better.  Needless-to-say, Terror Entrepreneurs such as Mr. Borboly are hugely destructive to any civil society.

The Sheep Problem 

Raising sheep is part of a proud tradition in Romania going back thousands of years.  But the country has also recently emerged as the leading exporter of mutton in Europe, with about 1.5 million sheep sold annually primarily to Middle Eastern and North Africa markets. The country’s expanding sheep numbers pose mounting threats to streams, the land, and bears.

In summer months, herders trail sheep bands from lower-elevation farm lands to the high mountains. From a bear’s perspective, sheep are an easy meal. In contrast to the US, most herders in Romania rely on guardian dogs and night pens to deter bears and wolves. In fact, through thousands of years of selection, herders have developed a breed of dog that is especially well-suited to the rugged Carpathians.

But dogs there have a downside, as some go feral, especially if underfed, and pack up to kill wildlife. They also carry diseases such as rabies and parvo, which can be transmitted to wolves and other wildlife. They attack people too – far more often than bears do. And wolves know full well how to lure dogs into the woods to kill them. In fact, one study showed that 25% of the diet of Romanian wolves was comprised of dog.

Given centuries-old traditions, changes in agricultural practice come slowly. Today, tools such as electric fence to protect stock are viewed with skepticism by many farmers. Plus, proper construction of an electric fence necessitates 5 strands rather than the 1-strand commonly used by Romanian farmers – but prospectively at a cost that is beyond the financial reach of many.

Laszlo Gal suggested that sheep be removed from forested habitat in Romania and maintained within the carrying capacity of the land. And, dogs that stray far from the herds they are guarding and forage on their own in the wilderness, he suggested, should be eliminated.

Gaby pointed to the unsustainable, high numbers of sheep, 12 million total in the country. Current levels of sheep grazing are far above levels that might be supported on the basis of maintaining tradition, he says.

And for Romania’s bears, sheep are only part of the problem.

Other Threats

The days of Communist dictators executing anyone who illegally logged or hunted are now long over. And Romania’s vast primeval forests are valuable. In recent years, the country’s National Parks, small postage stamps of untouched forests, have come under attack by large multinational corporations, which bribe local officials for the privilege of hauling off priceless trees to sell throughout Europe. Just last year, Greenpeace reported that Romanian authorities identified 12,487 cases of illegal logging, up by 32 percent year-on-year.

In 2009, Gaby Paun founded a Romanian grassroots group called Agent Green to expose the mounting problem of illegal logging. After working with Greenpeace for decades, Gaby perfected the art of Guerilla Theater, captured here.  Deploying such tactics, he and other advocates enjoyed some significant successes simply by embarrassing corrupt officials and venal corporate executives in the media. Perhaps not surprisingly, he has nearly paid for his commitment to Romania’s forests with his life, narrowly surviving several assassination attempts sponsored by government Mafioso. (Gaby talks more about these harrowing adventures in this Grizzly Times interview.)

But loss of mast-producing trees is not the only threat to key bear foods. In a trend similar to the US, more and more people are heading into Romania’s hills to pick berries and mushrooms for personal consumption and, increasingly, for profit. Some hope to get a selfie with a bear posed artfully in the background.  And, like here, more and more people are riding motorcycles and mountain bikes in previously secure bear habitat. Adding to this destructive mix, illegal garbage dumping is also widespread, especially in places that create collateral conflicts between bears and people. Even more problematic, feeding stations designed to provision wild boars continue to attract bears, often in areas near villages. Even Borboly supported more restrictions on motorcycles, and stronger legislation to stop illegal dumping of garbage in the forests, although, of course, he says nothing about feeding wildlife to benefit hunters.

As in the US, Romania’s bears are threatened by habitat degradation and a host of largely avoidable conflicts and killing. But, there are solutions.

The Promise of Ecotourism

With a large pool of conservation-minded people across Europe, viewing bears could provide a vital alternative source of income in Romania – if bear watchers could be assured a good picture. As an example of what can be done, Levante (“Levi”) Peter, a skilled nature photographer, has started up a small ecotourism business, using feeding stations strategically located far from villages. He hopes that if done right, such enterprises could become a successful business model that is perhaps widely adopted, with the promise of fostering greater acceptance of bears by local residents.

Levi says: “Bears are my second family. I want to show that they are good, and that people need to learn to behave, not the bears.”

Borboly too conceded that ecotourism holds promise, and even some hunting associations are now providing bear watching opportunities. But, as with trophy hunting, if unregulated or otherwise done poorly, bear-viewing could create as many problems as it solves, including becoming entangled in the tentacles of the government-corporate Mafioso—no doubt the tacit hope behind Borboly’s advocacy.

Upgrading the Practice of Coexistence

One thing that Romania’s bears have going for them are impressive government managers like Lajos Berde of Covasna County’s Environmental Protection Agency. His knowledge of bear science matched or exceeded that of his American counterparts in the workshop. Roughly 1500 bears live in Covasna County, which is similar in size to the Blackfoot Challenge area with its 60 or so grizzlies. And over 140,000 people live in the County, compared to just 9,000 in the Blackfoot drainage. So…25-times more bears and 16-times more people, all crowded into the same area and somehow making a go of it.

The point is that something has been working for bears and people in Covasna County and elsewhere in Romania for a long, long time. You don’t build up a brown bear population of that size with so many people if local residents believe that bears are Monsters of God.  Lajos is quick to emphasize that that younger people are even more enthusiastic then their elders about bears – which holds promise for the future.

His biggest problems are centered around a lack of resources and effective coordination among agencies. And, Borboly’s public rants don’t help.  To Lajos, one problem is the country’s culture of complaining: people may see a source of conflict but prefer to whine rather than fix it. Sound familiar? Gaby agrees and adds that Communism, which enforced collective work, has left communities suspicious about government-driven processes. And, attitudes towards government and outsiders are probably not helped by centuries of being overrun by conquering armies, starting with Genghis Khan’s horde.

In such a climate, Gaby and Lajos concur that NGOs could play a bigger role in pulling people together and creating new programs to resolve bear conflicts, as they have in the Blackfoot drainage and Swan Valley.

Raising awareness of and appreciation for Romanian bears is also important. All the workshop participants took note of the immense marketing hype around grizzlies in the Missoula environs. Grizzlies are portrayed on billboards, on storefronts, in gift shops, and even in restrooms at the airport. Despite vigorous disagreements about strategies, the Romanians enthusiastically agreed that more could be done along these lines to make Europeans more aware of the country’s abundant bears and unparalleled wilderness.

A Way Forward

In the end, the future of bears in Romania will be determined not only by broad public support in Romania and elsewhere in Europe, but by the quiet commitment of people like Lajos working inside the government, by people such as Gaby working passionately outside it, and by people such as Levi showing through example a different ecologically benign way to make a living in the company of bears. In my experience with grizzly bears here, coordinated multi-pronged, multi-scale strategies involving habitat protection, effective coexistence, and the cultivation of public and political support both locally and nationally are all essential – and the talent is clearly in place to pursue such strategies in Romania.

In both countries, hopefully we can hang onto our current bans on trophy hunting. Addressing the broader problem of corruption and criminal violence presents a bigger problem.  Terror Entrepreneurs seem to have growing influence in both countries, where the voiceless and the innocent are increasingly vulnerable. If we don’t challenge their behavior and rhetoric, not only bears will be endangered, but also civil society.

With so much at stake we need to take advantage of opportunities to learn from each other about what works and what doesn’t to foster coexistence and ensure healthy bear populations. To us, Romania provides an example of how lots of bears can mix it up with lots of people for a long, long time. Romanians may not have much money, but they certainly have deep cultural connections with bears. In turn, we have the advantage of strong environmental laws, affluence, and symbolic icons like Yellowstone Park. Together we may both deepen our knowledge and commitment to do justice by the bears we are blessed to have among us.

All photos by Laszlo Gal.

Categories: News for progressives

Alternatives to Wilderness?

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:53

Photo Source Blake Lemmons | CC BY 2.0

In recent years it has become fashionable for conservationists to substitute and promote other land classification in place of wilderness designation. Wilderness is “passé” so we are told, even though it is the “gold standard” for land protection.

In a recent white paper, The Wilderness Society outlined some of these alternatives such as National Recreation Area, Conservation Management Area, Special Management Area (Newberry Crater), National Scenic Area, Wildlife Management Area, and other titles.

While such designations may confer greater flexibility than wilderness designation, and often more protection than no special label, since there is no “organic act” for such classifications, there is no consistent policy protection for such designations. The degree of protection provided can vary and depends entirely on the original language that created such areas. By contrast, with Wilderness designation, we know what we are getting.

Many of these designations allow uses and activities that are non-conforming in designated wilderness. For instance, the Lolo National Forest has proposed logging the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area near Missoula, Montana. Logging also occurs in other NRAs including the Sawtooth NRA in Idaho, Hells Canyon NRA in Oregon, among others. Such logging would not be permitted in designated wilderness.

However, TWS was careful to note “These designations are often referred to as ‘alternatives to wilderness.’  This description is not accurate because other designations are often applied to landscapes that are worthy of protection but are not appropriate for wilderness designation. “

In other words, TWS recognizes that these alternative designations should not be advocated as an alternative to wilderness designation.

Unfortunately, we find that many conservation groups automatically go to alternatives classification for land that is suitable for wilderness. Typically, the alternatives are offered before any legislation is finalized, and typically to reduce the animosity or opposition from a “user” groups like ranchers, mountain bikers or snowmobilers.

An example, the advocacy of “Wilderness Management Area” designation for portions of the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalohorn WSA in the Gallatin Range of Montana is the use of lesser protection instead of promoting wilderness classification. The HPB area is the most important wildlife habitat in the entire Gallatin Range, and advocating for an alternative designation fails to fully protect the superb wildlands/wildlands value of these lands.

This contrasts with the strategy that was common in the past with successful wilderness campaigns. For instance, when the North Cascades were under consideration for national park and wilderness status, a compromise was reached to create a national recreation area for Ross Lake adjacent to the park, even though the lands qualified as wilderness.

But park/wilderness advocates did not start with the proposal to have a national recreation area, rather the NRA status was a compromise they accepted when their attempt to include those lands in the Pasayten Wilderness area did not fly.

Similarly, when the 1994 California Desert Wilderness bill was passed, one of the compromised that was accepted (not promoted by conservationist) was the establishment of a Mojave National Preserve. Conservationists had been promoting a national park, but opposition from hunters, ranchers, and conservative politicians precluded the park designation and preserve (which allows hunting among other things) was accepted in the end. And despite this political setback, a considerable proportion of Mojave National Preserve is designated wilderness.

Today, however, conservationists are often ready to abandon advocacy for wilderness for other classifications, often the result of “collaboration” which tends to result in less wilderness and thus less protection.

For example, the 2014 Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act designated the majority of the roadless lands along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana as a 208,000 acre “Conservation Management Area”.

The Conservation Management Area designation was settled on by a collaborative group that included wilderness advocacy groups like The Wilderness Society, Montana Wilderness Association and other groups. Settling for something less than wilderness short-charged an area that during the Forest Service’s RAREll evaluation rated the wilderness qualities of the Front the highest of any area in the United States outside of Alaska. In other words, if any place in the lower 48 states should be designated wilderness, it is the lands along the Rocky Mountain Front.

How does Conservation Management Area differ from wilderness? For instance, the Conservation Management Area language allows for “constructing a temporary road on which motorized vehicles are permitted as part of a vegetation management project in any portion of the Conservation Management Area located not more than 1⁄4 mile from the Teton Road, South Teton Road, Sun River Road, Beaver Willow Road, or Benchmark Road”. “Vegetation management” is a euphemism for logging.

It also allows use of motorized vehicles “for administrative purposes (including noxious weed eradication or grazing management.” Again, this is not typically permitted in a designated wilderness.

The legislature also allows mountain biking and even requires creating more mountain biking trails. “Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture, in consultation with interested parties, shall conduct a study to improve nonmotorized recreation trail opportunities (including mountain bicycling) on land not designated as wilderness within the district.”

Since the area designated as Conservation Management Area consists of the less steep and in general better wildlife habitat, this requirement will create more human disturbance in the most important wildlife habitat of the Rocky Mountain Front.

Anyone who argues that the Conservation Management Area is the equivalent of wilderness designation is misleading the public.

While the Heritage Act did designate 67,000 acres of new wilderness adjacent to the Bob Marshall and Lincoln Scapegoat Wildernesses, however, the same bill released the Zook Creek and Buffalo Creek wilderness study areas in Montana from further study for wilderness designation to allow potential energy development.

The organizations that supported Conservation Management Area would suggest that without a compromise on the designation, no legislation would have been introduced. Maybe, maybe not. There are many instances in conservation history where strong advocacy for maximum protection of lands were successful even as some naysayers predicted failure

Another example of capitulation by wilderness advocates is the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club which has given up on protecting the Maiden Peak Roadless area as wilderness. The Maiden Peak is the largest unprotected roadless area in the Cascades. But the Sierra Club has decided that opposition from “stakeholders” primarily mountain bikers has caused them to advocate for a “conservation area” instead of wilderness, though the Maiden Peak area clearly qualifies as wilderness.

The Sierra Club goes on to suggest that mountain bikers are “strong environmentalists” and “active stewards of the trails they use.”

Here the Sierra Club clearly conflates recreation use with conservation.  A  “strong environmentalist” would be advocating for the strongest protection for the land—which in this case is wilderness designation, not whether they can personally “use” the land.

It is worth noting that in previous wilderness debates, conservationists did not immediately fold and concede to non-wilderness designations or options.

For instance, during the debate over the creation of the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness in the 1970s, one of the major issues was whether to leave what was known as the “Slough Creek Corridor” out of the wilderness proposal.

At that time, snowmobiles, dirt bikes, and even jeeps were traveling up the Boulder River and over through upper Slough Creek and eventually to Cooke City, Montana. The “corridor” split the proposed AB Wilderness into two segments with an eastern “Beartooth Unit” and a western “Absaroka” unit.

This motorized group was opposed to closing this corridor to motorized travel.  And bowing to this pressure, some wildlands advocates were willing to reduce the wilderness proposal, leaving out the Absaroka portion west of the Slough Creek Corridor. Fortunately, advocates for a single large wilderness nearly million acre wilderness won out, and today the AB Wilderness is one of the largest protected areas in the United States. (To read more about this issue see here.)

The point is not that a compromise occurs—all politics is about compromise. Rather it is when that compromise occurs.  As David Brower often reminded more timid conservationists, “Our role is to stake out the high ground and let the politicians cut the deals.”

Ironically it was Bob Marshall who stated that one of the reasons he founded the Wilderness Society in 1935 was because too many people were willing to compromise wilderness away. He wrote “We want no straddlers, for in the past they have surrendered too much good wilderness and primeval which should never have been lost… Above all, we do not want in our ranks people whose first instinct is to look for compromise.”

As conservationists, we have a moral obligation to fight for wilderness designation for all lands that can possibly qualify for designation under the 1964 Wilderness Act. There will be compromises, but we should not be the ones promoting them.

Categories: News for progressives

Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:53

Photo Source Swithun Crowe | CC BY 2.0

Rarely can history have dictated that the blood of three beheaded daughters should be injected into a vein of hope. The operation, I suppose, was self-administered by the stout little man with thick, matted hair sitting in front of me in an upper floor of the University of Toronto’s medical centre. I might even call Izzeldin Abuelaish stubborn, save for his awesome courage and his instant invitation for coffee and dates. He welcomes visitors to his fifth floor office with a large coloured photograph on the opposite wall which has the dignity and objectivity of an Impressionist painting.

It shows his three daughters, Mayar, Aya and Bessan, sitting on a blustery Gaza beach in the early new year of 2009. Mayar, in a white scarf and looking slightly to her right, Aya in the middle in a woollen cap, Bessan also in a scarf, almost full length, resting on her right hand, looking at her own name, in English, which she has drawn in the sand. As her father said to me, every time the tide came in, it erased their names and they wrote them again. Two weeks after the photographs was taken, they will be with their father Izzeldin in their Gaza home when Israeli tank shells smash into the house. I don’t ask Izzeldin to repeat what happened next. He told the story, eloquently, terribly, unanswerably in the months that followed. Mayar appeared to be the first to die. This is how he described the events when he spoke at the Karachi Literary Festival:

“I can’t recognise my daughters. Their heads were cut off their bodies. They were separated from their bodies and I can’t recognise whose body is this. They were drowning in a pool of blood… This is their brain. These are parts of their brain. Aya was lying on the ground. Shatha [another daughter] was injured and her eye is coming out. Her fingers were torn, just attached by a tag of skin. I felt disloved [sic], out of space, screaming… The second shell soon came to kill Aya, to injure my niece who came down from the third floor, and to kill my eldest daughter Bessan, who was in the kitchen and came at that moment, screaming and jumping, ‘Dad! Dad! Aya is injured.’”

This took place at 4.45 pm on 16 January 2009. Bessan was 21, Mayar 15, Aya 13.

Izzeldin Abuelaish is an associate professor of global health, born in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza, but the 63-year-old gynaecologist still mops his eyes when he comes to this point in our conversation almost 10 years later. I do not bring up the terrible ironies. I do not refer to his wife, who died of cancer only four months before the Israelis killed the three young women and Izzeldin’s niece.

He was himself already the first Palestinian to receive a staff position at an Israeli hospital – could there have been a more appropriate symbol of human trust between two sides? And he speaks Hebrew, of course, and was speaking Hebrew on a live broadcast to Israeli television in the room where his daughters’ remains were lying in their blood in January 2009. It would be pleasant to record that this changed everything, that the Israelis realised finally, in one terrifying, humbling live broadcast that their army’s butchery of the civilians of Gaza – along with its pathetic Islamist militia – must now end.

For what? Each time Gaza was eviscerated, the Israelis claimed self-defence after Hamas’ largely inaccurate and often home-made rockets were fired into the Israeli frontier town of Sderot. A few years ago, I went down to Sderot and discovered that it was once a Palestinian village called Huj whose Arab inhabitants – who helped their Jewish neighbours in the 1948 war – were ruthlessly driven out by the Israeli army of the time. Indeed, the Israelis even ignored the appeal of David Ben-Gurion to let the villagers stay. And one of Izzeldin’s surviving daughters read my old article and told her father – which is why he greeted me warmly in the early cold autumn of Toronto. Because his grandfather was the mayor of Huj in 1948 and because his family, unbeknown to me of course, came from the old village of Huj. And thus Izzeldin’s grandparents were forced from their village by the new Israeli state and abandoned to the camps of Gaza – from which the Hamas rockets now fall on what was Huj and what is now Sderot.

I am therefore not surprised to find that Izzeldin has been to Huj/Sderot, found his destroyed village’s cemetery of stones and some of its fruit orchards and talked to the leaders of the local Jewish kibbutzim and even found, not far away, the gated enclosure which protects the grave of that most warlike of all Israeli leaders, Ariel Sharon, the man who sent his army’s militias into the Sabra and Chatila camps in Beirut in 1982 and which murdered there its Palestinians inhabitants, up to 1,700 of them. History hangs in curtains over the lands of the Palestinians – both Arab and Jew – who lived under the British mandate, and over the lands in which they live today. In many cases, the curtains are heavy with blood. The lands are usually the same.

Which is where our story takes on a certain nobility. For despite the fact that he vainly took the Israelis to court for his family’s slaughter – first they claimed that there were snipers in the Abuelaish house, then that militants were hiding there, then that the shells which killed the daughters and niece came from Hamas (all disproved) – he founded the “Daughters for Life” Foundation to provide scholarships for young women to study at universities in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria. He wrote a book called I Shall Not Hate. Now a Canadian citizen, Abuelaish is much honoured, with human rights awards and a degree from Simon Fraser University.

And he clings to what – I try to speak the truth here – is perhaps a very forlorn hope: that history will always surprise us. “Did you ever dream that a black guy would be president of the United States?” he asks. “If I’d told you that 15 years ago, you’d have told me I’m crazy. Or would you imagine Trump would be president? Can you tell me what will happen tomorrow? Did you think Arafat would ever shake hands with Rabin?” I’m not at all sure that I’d have brought Trump into these dreams, but I get Abuelaish’s point: that some things are unimaginable, others pre-determined.

“Palestine will never leave me,” he says. “It’s inside me. I go there. I am rooted there. I understand all the challenges and the myths. The land is the determinant of our life. The Jews imagined 2,000 years ago that the Jews would go back to Jerusalem and they were all over the world – and they succeeded in establishing their state. [But] we are close [to a Palestinian state]. We are there. We see it. There is a difference between what you want and what is the reality… This is not a religious conflict. This is a political, colonial conflict.”

The latter is true. But Abuelaish’s determination is laced with an innocent pragmatism. He does believe that Palestinians and Israelis should love one another. But he places his trust in common sense, which is a dodgy foundation for peace in the Middle East. There can be no “transfer” of Palestinians from the West Bank, he says. It would be impossible. I am not so sure. He thinks Abu Mazen, the Palestinian “president” is “smart” but doesn’t agree with his “stewardship”, which – these are my words, not Izzeldin’s – is fossilised and corrupt. Izzeldin speaks of unity and then says – all too true – that as Palestine gets smaller and smaller for Palestinians, so the Palestinian factions (the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, Hamas, you name it) want to be bigger and bigger.

“We don’t want to delete the Israelis – we want to be side-by-side with them. We want to be equal to them. I want to ask Netanyahu: what do Israelis want for themselves and their children?” That’s fine, of course, but a lot of Netanyahu’s extremist cabinet want all of “Palestine” for themselves and their children – through the very colonial project of “settlements” which Abuelaish acknowledges. “We must have a civil, intellectual, pragmatic society in order to face the occupation – with inspiring minds, education, talent, to speak to the world,” he says. “We don’t need missiles.”

He is a tough man. “I will never give up. I will never forget my daughters. I believe one day I will meet them and I am accountable to God and to them and they will ask me: ‘What did you do for us?’” Izzeldin talks of his wounded daughter Shatha, who was partially blinded by the tank shells and who later said to him: “If I don’t see with my right eye, I have my left eye.” Shatha came top of her class in her exams that summer of 2009 and passed with flying colours at the School of Engineering at the University of Toronto. “The antidote of hatred and revolution is success and education,” he says. A week earlier, he had expressed his condolences for the 11 Jewish Americans murdered in their synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“We must understand the interconnectedness of health and peace,” he says. “If you are in Gaza, you want to be happy, to be free, to enjoy yourself. This is health. If you are unemployed, you want to have a job. This is health. If you are studying for an exam, you want to finish your exam and to be free of all that and to start your job. Peace, freedom, justice and education depends on who you are and where you are.”

It’s a hard call. When he was travelling to Israel on the Canadian Governor General’s jet on a delegation to the Middle East, Abuelaish presented his Canadian passport to the Israelis at Ben Gurion airport. But along with another Palestinian-born delegate, he was made to wait – until he was given a “Palestinian permit”. I cringe as I hear of this unnecessary, shameful act, although I suppose – in an unintended way – it redeemed his Palestinian identity while demonstrating the impotence of his country of citizenship.

He continues his legal case against the Israelis. Whatever compensation he wins – and he should win – will go towards Daughters for Life. He is writing a new book, which will be titled: “I Shall Not Fear”. But during our conversation, I notice that his mind turns to a disturbing question. How come Malala, the young woman gravely wounded by the Taliban, was so feted – and rightly so – in the West, while Shatha was largely disregarded? He doesn’t begrudge Malala her courage or her fame. But he notices a difference between the two young women and a very crucial one: the identity of those who almost killed them.

Categories: News for progressives

For What?

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:52

Europe is now commemorating the 100 year anniversary of World War I, with all of the pageantry that accompanies it. I just can’t help but wonder, “Do they get it yet? Do they really understand what it was all about?”  Do they realize yet that 20 million soldiers, people, killed and died for nothing?

It was a stupid colonialist war that accomplished absolutely nothing of importance, just power changing hands. At least Lenin was smart enough to see that and immediately got Russia out of it. On the other hand, the Americans were particularly stupid since this war was strictly a European affair, in actuality, a European family feud. But Americans didn’t understand that. They thought that since it was a war between the Big Powers, they should be included and recognized. The Americans said, “Hey, we’re a big power too, you know. Take notice of us, Europe. We recently acquired some colonies of our own! We have every much of a right to send our boys overseas to proudly die in your colonialist war!”  Of course, Europe welcomed them, but behind their backs, they snickered to each other in private, “These dumb Americans. They don’t realize that this is a family feud.” However, the futility of war was quite lost not only on the Americans but on the Europeans as well. Europe should instead hold a ceremony to mourn those who died for nothing. Ironically, at least then it would have some meaning. I could support that.

Curiously, even after one century, no one seems absolutely sure why the war started in the first place. What was it all about? It was so crazy, demented, when you think of it, wasn’t it? Here was this huge, unprecedented world war that began after a century of relative peace in Europe, and for what? This is something people should think about before they revel in the pageantry. Some 20 million people died, which means that 20 million people killed others, which also means that so many, many millions more lost a father, a husband, a grandfather, a friend, a lover – and for what?

For what, I ask you: For what? It is the booming question that still glares at us after one whole century. Does no one see this glaring question that rears its head from the abyss?? Why? These people killed and died for nothing, and the world still doesn’t get it one century later. Here we are commemorating a useless, stupid world war that twisted and screwed up so many lives. And guess what? Another thing that should be perfectly clear is that World War II would never have happened had it not been for WWI. This is an indisputable historical reality. The two wars were absolutely interlinked. WWII was practically “Phase 2” of the same crazy, stupid European feud that they just couldn’t get over.

And forget Hitler. I think one can state with complete confidence that a Hitler would never have arisen from the ashes of WWI if WWI simply hadn’t occurred. And it didn’t have to. We should understand that nothing historical is deterministic. History happens because we make it happen, because we choose it to happen that way. And it was from the very ashes of this cruel monstrosity, this curse on humanity, this absurd and evil world war, that the monster took on a new shape and rose back up from the ashes to refashion Germany into Nazi aggression; and the horrible, cruel war was reignited, started all over again, the war that everyone thought was finished.

They were mistaken. It was not finished, for the ghosts of those 20 million or so lives could not rest in peace, for when they died, the shocking realization of the absurd futility of it all, the fact that their lives were totally wasted, given up for nothing, was too much for them. Their lost souls remained at war, lost in time, and because their lives had been spent for this war, they wanted with a vengeance for the whole thing to mean something to them. But it did not. It could not. It meant nothing, and as much as they tried to make it mean something through the renewal of WWI, refashioned as World War II, this mad, vengeful effort was doomed to fail.

The only meaning that we should gather from the madness of this one mad world war, the only meaning that will help those souls to rest in peace is that the real tragedy of war is its futility, that people are made to rationalize murder and carry it out, that lives are wasted as a result, that everyone is affected for generations, that souls are lost and cannot find peace. It is a cautionary tale, and if we heed it, then perhaps their lives were not spent in vain. Only when we find the way to peace and learn from their mistake will they also be able to find peace.

So, the worst thing about World War I is that it led to World War II. It was not two wars – it was the continuation of the same, stupid, useless war that had no meaning, no virtue, and no heroics, that is, except when a brother died in order to save a brother’s life. Still, it is somewhat of a hollow virtue when you consider that the whole enterprise was built on a lie, that people really didn’t have to kill each other, and they didn’t have to die for that lie. In reality, the brother whose life was saved in most cases probably died later anyway.  So, what was it all for? What have we learned about it all? Did we finally “get it” that war is such a total loss of humanity? Have we realized the futility of war yet – that they only happen because we choose them to happen, but they don’t have to, that we need to stop all the fucking wars today?

World war is totally 20th century, of the madness of the 20th century mind, and so needs to remain in the 20th century. The 21st century represents a chance for humanity to start over again by stopping the war. Don’t allow that mad monster to rear its head again from the abyss of the 20th century. We must never forget. Stop it completely, absolutely, without compromise. The stupid, futile, tragic world war almost completely destroyed Europe during the 20th century; fortunately, it didn’t destroy humanity, and Europe was still able to recover, eventually, painfully, that is, over several decades. And there is still much of Europe that never recovered. War often destroys things that will be lost forever, things that will never return. It is a painful lesson we should never forget.

However, today the 21st century is different, the 21st century mind is different, and the one fundamental point of departure is that the 21st century mind must reject the madness of the 20th century. From this point of departure, when the 21stcentury rejects the madness of the 20thcentury, then, and only then can 21st century mind emerge; it must shake off the shackles of the 20th century mind, and the first step is to STOP THE WAR, stop it completely because unlike the 20th century, the youth of the 21stcentury must understand that in our very bones, in our very souls, from the very souls of those who fought in the great world war of the 20th century, that this time it’s different, this time we will not recover, this time world war will mean the end of humanity. It’s that simple: STOP THE WAR NOW!

Categories: News for progressives

The Government is Our Teacher

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:50

“Our government is the potent, omnipresent teacher.”

At his death sentencing in 1997 Timothy McVeigh, the infamous Oklahoma City bomber, spoke words that every American should take to heart when confronted with violence perpetrated by US veterans.  Quoting Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, McVeigh stated, “Our government is the potent, omnipresent teacher.  For good or ill it teaches the whole people by its example.” In 1995, McVeigh, a decorated Gulf War veteran, who a comrade referred to as “the best soldier I met when I was in the Army”, carried out the largest terrorist act on US soil pre-9/11.

Unfortunately, many US veterans like McVeigh have used skills and training acquired in the military to kill fellow Americans. The latest is Ian David Long, a former Marine allegedly responsible for a shooting in Thousand Oaks, California that left 12 people dead.  Although authorities will search for motives, it is likely they will dismiss Long’s own words, as McVeigh’s have been ignored.  Reportedly, in a Facebook post before the attack, Long wrote: “I hope people call me insane… (laughing emojis).. wouldn’t that just be a big ball of irony? Yeah.. I’m insane, but the only thing you people do after these shootings is ‘hopes and prayers’.. or ‘keep you in my thoughts’… every time… and wonder why these keep happening…”

If Long’s and McVeigh’s indictments fall on deaf ears, perhaps the words of a Marine Corps Pastor who served with Long in Afghanistan will carry more weight.  The pastor, Thomas Burke, stated, “We train a generation to be as violent as possible, then we expect them to come home and be OK. It’s not mental illness. It’s that we’re doing something to a generation, and we’re not responding to the needs they have.”

Two shootings in 2017 epitomize this dangerous trend. In January Esteban Santiago, an Iraq War veteran, killed five people at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.  The following June John Robert Nuemann, Jr., an Army veteran, killed five employees at his former workplace in Orlando before killing himself.  As police searched for motives, they did not turn to McVeigh’s words and question what role US military training had in the tragedies.  How many more US veteran mass shootings and suicides must Americans endure before this basic question is asked?

As Pastor Burke noted, veteran shootings happen too often to place the blame solely on “loners” with mental illness.  Consequently, the investigative mirror needs to be turned on an American culture of violence exacerbated by continuous war since 2001. The legacy of the Bush and Obama Administrations’ active bombing of seven countries, the public’s passive acceptance of torture, and the militarization of the police combined with high levelsof veteran Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the open sale of automatic weapons, means that Americans should expect more mass shootings by veterans.

An uncomfortable reality is that perpetual war and military training are at least partly responsible for some of the highest profile shootings and terrorist acts in US history.  After all, it was Lee Harvey Oswald, a Marine sharpshooter, who the US government alleged got off three incredible shots from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas in November 1963 that killed President John F. Kennedy.  The US special forces had been involved in Vietnam for six years by that time.

And what of the training that young Americans received to fight in Vietnam?  Charles Whitman was a US Marine trained sniper who in 1966 turned his weapon on fellow classmates at the University of Texas, killing 16 (including a head shot to a baby still in its mother’s womb).  Perched in the UT Clock Tower Whitman made kill shots from 500 yards.  Before embarking on his killing spree he killed his wife and mother. The 50th anniversary of that tragic day passed on August 1, 2016, the same day that the University of Texas began allowing students to carry weapons on campus.

Also, have we forgotten the terror that John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo unleashed on the greater DC area in October 2002?  Muhammad, a US Army trained marksmen, and his partner Malvo, killed 10 people while terrorizing millions.  Their shooting spree epitomized the physical and psychological power that terrorists have as they shot people going about daily tasks like pumping gas or shopping.

In another high profile veteran shooting, Micah Johnson, killed five police officers in Dallas in July 2016.  A New York Times headline spoke to the detrimental impact military training can have on veterans like Johnson: Micah Johnson, Gunman in Dallas, Honed Military Skills to a Deadly Conclusion.

Johnson, like McVeigh, was a psychopath.  But McVeigh’s pathology did not stop him from rationally spelling out the reasons he took his actions.  For example, he claimed that he was awarded medals for killing enemy Iraqis but was a villain at home for fighting against a Clinton government he perceived as a threat to the Republic.  McVeigh was a Christian from Upstate New York radicalized by the destruction wrought by the US military in Iraq in 1991, especially on the “highway of death”.  The Waco Raid in 1993 that saw the FBI firebomb David Koresh’s compound, killing the radical preacher but also innocent women and children, pushed him over the edge. McVeigh stated, “[his] bombing was a retaliatory strike; a counter attack, for the cumulative raids (and subsequent violence and damage) that federal agents had participated in over the preceding years (including, but not limited to, Waco).”

Given the spate of shootings by veterans trained for perpetual war since McVeigh’s execution in 2001, it is clear the US government and media have ignored his warning. It is time to soberly consider the impact that 17 years of war have had on soldiers tasked with projecting US military might across the globe.

Even a brief public examination of the impact of training and war on veterans may help us better understand the roots of the attacks referenced above that, although separated by 50 years, share one fundamental fact: the perpetrators were trained by their teacher, the US government.

Categories: News for progressives

The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:45

As per usual in my ongoing failure to “speak to the day” as a journalist should, this piece will come out after the “most important election of our lifetimes”-midterms. Part of the delay was having to deal with friends who were worried that I would say the sorts of things I say here—because, you know, as a philosopher and retired professor the influence I have is enormous!  I’ll return to the all-important midterms at the end, now that they are (safely?) behind us.

I imagine the “lifetimes” in question are those of the well-trained liberals, progressives, and “leftists” who are now in their twenties, thirties, and forties; “educated people.”  For anyone older, I find it hard to understand how they think the stakes of things within the existing social system are so different than in any other election.  Even for those in their forties, we have lived as adults in a time when the Supreme Court stopped an election and installed a president and vice-president in what looked like a right-wing coup.  This unfolded into real elements of fascism, such as the abrogation of the U.S. constitution by the Patriot Act, the starting of wars on the basis of outright lies (lies that were easily seen through, but that were supported by Democrats in Congress such as Hillary Clinton); these wars continue today.  But my liberal friends say, “never mind that, because … Trump.”

For liberals, there is nothing Trump has done that is anything but bad or even horrible. Everything Trump is and does is horrible for them.

George W. Bush is the name we associate with these never-ending wars, wars that the Democrats supported.  Trump took down Bush and his terrible family with a single line that needed to be said—and yet no Democrat said it; that was a great service to both America and the rest of the world.  But the Democrats are incapable of recognizing this.  In fact, now they love W. and feel nostalgia for his presidency.

On day one of his administration, as promised, Donald Trump cancelled the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which had the very dangerous and wrong aim of isolating China internationally.  That by itself is worth the price of admission.

In the 2016 election, every element of the ruling class and the State (and the Deep State, the crucial element of which is the CIA, at least as I understand it) supported Hillary Clinton.  Leading figures in the Republican Party did everything they could to undermine Trump. The following passage from Tucker Carlson’s new book, Ship of Fools, is worth not only reading, but repeated study; the passage describes Bill Kristol’s trajectory in 2015 to 2016 regarding Trump’s candidacy and election:

“I remain not pro-Trump, but I’m once again drifting into the anti-anti-Trump camp,” Kristol wrote in August 2015. “Much of the criticism of Trump has the feel of falling (fairly or unfairly) into the hobgoblin-of-small-minds category.”

Then came the South Carolina primary debate.  Trump criticized the Iraq War and its promoters.  Kristol erupted.  He was as angry as he had been in public about anything.  Kristol denounced not just Trump, but anyone who didn’t join him in denouncing Trump.

“Once upon a time we had leaders who would have expressed their outrage at such a slander,” he wrote in the Weekly Standard.  “They would have explained to the American people how extraordinarily irresponsible his slander was, and would have done their best to discredit a man who could behave so irresponsibly.  They would have pronounced him to be unfit to be president of the United States, and they would have mobilized their friends, supporters and admirers to ensure so appalling an eventuality didn’t come to pass.”

Suddenly Kristol found himself aligned with the cocktail partiers at Davos he once mocked.  Global elites might oppose the interests of American voters, but at least they didn’t accuse Bill Kristol of lying about Iraq.  Kristol lapsed into a kind of public nervous breakdown, once coming close to tears on television, as he tried to stop Trump.

He failed.  Trump won the nomination, but Kristol barely took a breath.  He began searching for a warm body willing to mount a third-party challenge that would guarantee Hillary Clinton’s victory in the general election. (pp.116-117; Ship of Fools, Free Press, 2018)

This fascinating tale of Kristol’s attempt to undermine Trump goes on, including the attempt to convince Mitt Romney to be the aforementioned “warm body,” i.e., patsy. It is very interesting to me, as someone who does work in Mormon Studies (especially communitarian political theory and the heterodox elements of LDS theology), that Kristol settled on Evan McMullin, a Mormon who had worked for the CIA.  Unlike Romney, McMullin has actual Utah roots, and he did receive more votes there than anywhere else (where the LDS Church had denounced Trump, spurred by the famous “pussy grabber” tape).  Still McMullin did not become president of Utah, either, coming in third there, behind Hillary Clinton.

Given that Trump managed to triumph even against the CIA and every other element of the State/Deep State/ruling class, I propose we call this period of the Trump candidacy and presidency an “experiment.”  Liberals, and others who turn out to be no more than liberals, call it “fascism.”  Some call it “right-wing populism.”  Perhaps there are elements of the latter, but it is hard for me to see how terms such as “left” and “right” have much meaning anymore.  Now more than ever almost everyone who uses the term “left” to describe themselves as supposedly something to the left of the Democratic Party (even if, as with Democratic Socialists of America, representing the left within the Democratic Party) has folded themselves into this wretched, ridiculous “party”—at least for “now,” when “the stakes are so high,” indeed higher than they’ve ever been, in “our lifetimes,” etc., etc., ad nauseum.

What is condemned now as “right-wing populism” is simply the populism of the working class, it is the popular discontent of working people who have continually been sold down the river by the globalist-imperialist ruling class. The Democratic Party leadership have positioned themselves to be the best servants of this class, and they’ve done a very good job with that.  This is especially true in the ideological sphere, whereby anyone who disagrees with them is a racist, misogynist, homophobe, transphobe, and hater of refugees from the Third World.  On this last, and the approaching “caravan,” it makes sense to me now why, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton would have supported a coup in Honduras—to drive more desperate people northward to further replace and undermine working people in the U.S.  That is the sort of game the globalists play on the global chess board; more to come on this subject.

People who believe the Democratic Party ideology, or who at least believe that, at this apparently “singular moment,” “NOW” (as a close friend of mine put it), we have to set aside “ideological purity” and support the Democrats are just wrong about what is going on in the world.  Like the recent class-driven/Identity Politics constituencies who pass themselves off as “feminism,” the voices of this supposed desperation about Trump are largely coming from the academic and otherwise “professional” middle-class, who identify their interests with globalism. On the one hand, from this group, I’ve seen some saying the “ideologically-pure” on the “left” supposedly “look down their noses” at those who recognize the necessity to vote for Democrats “NOW.”  On the other hand, I’ve also seen the hilarious ploy of posting videos of Barack Obama asking people, “whether left or right,” to “get involved,” and vote. Let me put it this way: people who promote the latter ploy know full well that they are full of it, except perhaps it simply does not enter their minds, such are their ideological blinders and deep-seated class interests, that not everyone is going to vote the way these “involved”-types want them to.  For my part, yes, if you hold a gun to my head and force me to vote, I will vote, but I am not going to vote for the party of militarism and war and spitting on working people (all the while expecting them to silently get back to work, while there is work to get back to—and otherwise bugger off), and doing no more for those whose real grievances are diverted into the Identity Politics agenda than instrumentalizing them for the power of globalist finance capital.

As for anyone who is “looking down their nose,” it is these same Democrats who have become masters of nasal ocularism*, calling the working people “stupid” and “uneducated.”  Never was it more true what Marx said in the third thesis on Feuerbach, “The educator must be educated.”  [*“nasal ocularism”—from the Latin, “nasi deorsum quaeritis,” op. cit. Seneca, De Brevitate Vita, c.49 CE]

In other words, I hope the Trump experiment is allowed to unfold quite a bit more.

It’s not the revolution, obviously, and it’s not the world that humanity needs, in the longer term, but it’s qualitatively better than what the Democrats have on offer.

The most straightforward version of this reasoning has to do with the recent discussion of the term “nationalism.”  There is much more to be said on this question (and I will return to it elsewhere), but the point here is that Trump avowed the label in opposition to “globalism.” It seems to me that Trump meant the term in the simple sense of “take care of your own people,” and, yes, we can raise many questions about that—though, significantly, none that the Democrats have provided any good answer to (e.g., with the border issue, all they have is opposition to actually having borders, but no actual immigration policy to propose).  In a somewhat more complicated vein, I think Trump means something like “protectionism” in a libertarian, non-interventionist vein.  Obviously, it is completely bizarre that actual “socialist” and “communist” organizations (I’ll turn to one in a moment) could complain about trade wars and other trade policies that “threaten to destabilize world markets.”  In other words, let’s defend the World Trade Organization!—after all, we’re already going down the path of defending the CIA, FBI, etc., with the Democrats.  So crazy.

I recall that Alexander Cockburn once said (and perhaps the source of this can be found) that, given the choice between a libertarian anti-interventionist and a Democrat, he would take the former every time.  Belief in the mythology of the mythical “free market” is not necessary to make this claim.  Furthermore, though, while no one can say what will come from the Trump disruption, we have to let go of the idea that there is some connection between the internationalism that humanity needs and the globalism that the Democrats support, and the attendant view that what is “truly left” is somehow “left of the Democrats” and finding itself in what is “left in the Democratic Party.”  That’s just bad reasoning that doesn’t understand the world as it is configured today.

***

Of the various things for which we can be thankful to our forty-fifth president, perhaps the most important is what we can call “the Trump Clarification.”

In actuality, this Clarification is spread out over numerous, qualitatively-different issues.  I wrote about one form this Clarification takes in a previous article on the Christine Blasey Ford stunt.  Trump “causes problems for the postmodern capitalism anti-politics set-up, and shakes things up.  He is especially good at taking things that have needed to be addressed for years, and pushing them another step (at least rhetorically) toward crisis—and what the existing structure is showing is that, whether Democrat or Republican, the system has no solution to these things, at least not without a major shake-up and (what’s more important) without loss of power by those who are entrenched in power.”

Another form of clarification is that those to the “left” of ordinary Democratic Party liberals have had to decide where they stand. Unfortunately, they have gone full-bore into the liberalism, or neo-liberalism if you want to call it that, of the Democratic Party.  In other words, so-called “progressives” and “leftists” and even “socialists” and “Marxists,” and the far-greater part of those who call themselves “feminists,” or activists concerned with “issues of race,” or Trans-activists, etc., have now folded themselves into a “politics” where the horizons are “anti-Trump,” or “because Trump,” and where, whatever they think they are intending to advance, all they will achieve, at most, is support for the Democratic Party as some kind of “alternative”—really, the only alternative.  Undoubtedly, many think they are doing something else; at the same time, bedazzled by the term “fascism,” and excited by the prospect of being part of “the Resistance,” they seem to have lost all critical capacity for understanding society in a systemic and systematic way.

Whatever they think they are, these “leftists” have now shown their true colors and are simply liberals.  Perhaps to capture this acquiescence of leftism into Democratic Party liberalism I can coin the term “LOL,” for the liberalism of ostensible leftists.

But I’m not laughing out loud, or in fact laughing at all.  On a personal level, this has been a painful thing for me, as I have seen many comrades and friends go in this direction.

***

The following is a bit of a digression, and goes in a seemingly-different direction, but I hope it will prove useful in providing some background for my critique of liberalism and LOLism.

Some who know me know that I worked with the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, for about twenty-six years, from the early-1980s. Sometimes I worked with them very closely, as when I went to Lima, Peru in 1992, as part of a delegation to try to prevent the Peruvian State from judicially murdering Abimael Guzman.  In more recent years, as part of the work that was being done around attempting to reorient the RCP “beyond Mao,” I participated in a series of conversations with the leader of the Party, Bob Avakian. These conversations became a book, Marxism and the Call of the Future (Open Court, 2005).  I think we did a good job in the book of laying some groundwork for a leap beyond Mao and Maoism, and that there is still much in the book that is helpful in that way.

However, when we each turned in the years after this project (roughly after 2003 or so) to formulating a post-Maoist communism, we went in very different directions.  As some know, Bob Avakian offered his “New Synthesis” starting around 2005 or so, though what the synthesis was supposed to be other than the “method and approach” and “body of work” representing his leadership, speech-making, and writing over the period of his chairmanship of the RCP is unclear. In the last six months I made my way through Avakian’s The New Communism (Insight Press, 2016); as with many of Avakian’s works in the period of the “New Synthesis,” there are some half-formed insights here, and a good deal of going back over Marx 101, but nothing that is really new and developed with other new ideas into a synthesis.

For my part, the direction I took was first to finish a project that developed alongside Marxism and the Call of the Future, and that informed many of my comments in that book: Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation (Open Court, 2008).  As one might suppose, the book intertwines themes and ideas from Karl Marx and Immanuel Kant, as well as Marxist and Kantian themes from a diverse set of twentieth-century thinkers, including Sartre, Althusser, Adorno, Derrida, and Davidson.  Of course, Lenin and Mao were in there too (and another go at the “Stalin question,” which has preoccupied me for more than four decades now), and I especially stressed the Kantian side of Mao’s famous statement, “Marxism consists in thousands of truths, but they all come down to one thing: It is right to rebel against reactionaries.”  I took “It is right to rebel” as a kind of “categorical imperative.”  Among other things, the book also features what I think was, at least until that time, the most extended engagement with the “animal question” from a Marxist perspective.  I mention this here, because, even though I have gone in a new direction in the last ten years, a big part of why I have pursued Kant and Kantian themes in my work is to establish a sound basis for rejecting utilitarianism and especially utilitarian interpretations of Marxism.

(More needs to be said about why the animal question presents a special problem for utilitarianism and even more for that especially ridiculous form of utilitarian Marxism that dismisses the animal question with proclamations of “caring about people.”  But all of that and more is in the book.)

In Ethical Marxism, too, I take up what I think are the “Western monotheistic” aspects of Marx’s thought, processing them through Marx’s own version of the Categorical Imperative, “To overturn all those conditions in which humanity is rendered a contemptable, debased being” (Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, 1844).  In turn, the “destination” of this overturning is expressed in Kant’s third formulation of the Categorical Imperative, especially as extended to the pursuit of a “kingdom of ends.”

(One thing I’ve been reflecting upon a good deal lately, in my last year as a full-time professor and now in “retirement”—busier than ever, with writing and music-making—is that the year of Ethical Marxism’s publication seemed also to be the beginning of a ten-year denouement of my twenty-eight year academic career. I don’t know that there’s any direct connection of the two, but perhaps there is something in that I really gave a great deal of myself to bring this 500-page thing together, and, in the chapter on Maoism, I strained quite a lot to make sense of where Bob Avakian’s further development of Maoism was going.  All of this was done by fall 2006.  I don’t mean that the newer work Avakian was offering didn’t make sense, though in some of it he was clearly taking digs at the Kantian side of what I was proposing. After this, in 2008, Avakian had published a book on religion—formed, as many of his publications are, from talks—and I thought it was not a good book at all, and really a lot of “same old, same old,” typically-uninformed secularism.  In reality, the book I did with Avakian, whatever its merits in terms of theoretical exploration, was also, perhaps mainly, an attempt to use me to reach a larger public, at least a larger academic audience; therefore, it is quite interesting, weird even, that the subsequent attempt to do this, to “made Bob Avakian a household name,” was the event with Cornell West in 2014.  Prof. West, as is well-known, characterizes himself as a “radical” and “prophetic” Christian, and he supports electoral strategies.  Of course, this is not especially important if the main aim is to achieve a platform for Avakian.  In any case, to complete the point I’m making here, 2008 was both the moment when my big book appeared, and when, that summer, the decisive break with the RCP occurred. Since that time I have not been simply “wandering,” some definite progress has been made in terms of my own thinking about what a “new synthesis” really needs to be, but certainly all of that is still coming together.  By the latter I mean a systematic, book-length, exposition, the sort of thing I repeatedly asked about in the period from 2005 to 2008, when I heard a great deal about this “New Synthesis of Bob Avakian” that supposedly existed, but that had not been presented in a coherent and systematic form.  The New Communism is relatively coherent, though not especially systematic, and not new—therefore I would say the “new synthesis” does not exist there.)

In the past ten years and more I’ve been thinking more about this “Western monotheistic” aspect of Marxism, spurred by both the arguments of Alain Badiou, and by my long-standing interest in, but with a strong resistance to, Buddhism.  I’ve been thinking about Badiou’s rejection of a thinking predicated on “the One,” and the fact that, of all the major Marxist theoreticians and leaders, Mao was the only one who did not come from a Western monotheistic background.  So, I’ve been working on these things, toward a synthesis.  A big part of why I retired at age 62 is so I can bring this work to fruition.

Meanwhile, as some readers here may know, Bob Avakian and the RCP are trying a new round of “regime renewal,” the same sort of thing they tried with the previous “fascist” “regime,” the Bush/Cheney “regime.” (I discussed the problems with this term, “regime,” in “The Christine Blasey Ford episode.”)  Recently they even published an article by a fellow traveler in the “Refuse Fascism” movement that called on solidarity with “all [her] badass Democrats.”

So, that’s what this world of the “left” is coming to.  Recently I was on a fairly-long road trip, and among those I saw on my travels is an old friend who knew me all through my period of engagement with the RCP.  We were discussing my views on Trump and the Democrats (some of whom she supports, though, as with many of my friends, there is the claim about specific candidates and the present situation, somehow apart from actually supporting the Democratic Party), and I said something about this road the RCP is going down now.  My friend said something on the order of, “Well, they were always wrong.” Of course I knew she had thought this from way back in the early ‘80s, but now I’d like to visit this anew.

On some level, this obviously doesn’t matter to much of what is going on now, but I think it does mean something that even a group that almost everyone would agree was very far to the left of even most of the “far left” would come to the place it has now.  Let’s not get bogged down here in old debates about Stalinism and Trotskyism.  The RCP were internationalist, anti-imperialist, and anti-economist; these are the things that drew me toward them, and these are values I still uphold. There were points on which I strongly disagreed with the RCP, for instance their understanding of religion (or lack thereof—for what it’s worth, I have some disagreement with Badiou on this point as well), and their view of homosexuality and sexuality in general. On these points, at times I argued vigorously with them (and there are discussions with Bob Avakian on these subjects in Marxism and the Call of the Future), and at other times I subordinated these differences in work on what I considered to be “more important.”  Whether I was right to do this or not is something I continue to think about a great deal.

For me, too, obviously part of the appeal of the RCP was its holding to support of Mao and the revolution(s) in China. Again, we can argue over this for a long time (but elsewhere), but none of this looks like something that will easily fold into activities that in the end will do more than support the Democratic Party.  Having spent a good deal of time in China in recent years and having many conversations with people from many walks of life (with the exception that I have not really had the opportunity to have conversations with older peasants from the interior), I believe strongly that the Chinese Revolution(s) was/were a good thing for the far greater part, and that we still need to learn from this experience, the good and the bad.  If anyone wants to revisit these questions, I would recommend the book by Lee Feigon, Mao: A Reinterpretation (2002); I have a few disagreements with the book (some ideological, some having to do with omissions, for example there’s nothing about the “barefoot doctors,” which I think was one of the best things done in the Mao period), but I think it is generally helpful for taking a broad view of things.

So, yeah, Maoism (which for me was also intellectual engagement with French Maoism), anti-imperialism, anti-economism, and internationalism, I think are quite defensible—which doesn’t mean that the RCP didn’t do some pretty messed-up stuff (and I don’t just mean the obvious things like their line on homosexuality, but also the way that they kept their members on a very strict “information diet”—to the extent that, when the “Foreward” to Call of the Future was written by Slavoj Zizek, even the most informed members of the party didn’t know who that was), or, what’s far more important, that Maoism is the key to where things need to go now.  Indeed, it was the failure to really be able to work with the idea that a fundamentally new direction was needed (probably back around the mid-1980s), that even something more than a “new stage of communism” was needed, that prepared the ground for a scenario whereby all that can be claimed is that the “New Synthesis” was always already(to use a favorite expression of Derrida’s) there in the “overall method and approach” and “body of work” of Bob Avakian.  And so now they are out there more or less going along with the same bullshit as the rest of the Identity Politics/Democratic Party/anti-Trump “movement,” though of course with ass-covering provisos (that are also the same as everyone else’s).

With reference to Trotskyism (and neo-Trotskyism, or other claims about “classical Marxism”), I will make one comment, regarding economism.  Ever since Lenin used the term in What is to be done?, there has been a good deal of discussion as to what it really means.  Some have a very narrow reading, such that only the most narrow focus on the immediate needs of the workers counts as economism.  This view is generally associated with a tactical perspective on the “struggle” of the working class.  I associate that perspective with the various forms of Trotskyism, and neo-Trotskyism, and others who claim to hold to “classical Marxism” (which I take as a way of negating Lenin and the way that class struggle in the world is changed by imperialism); usually what goes along with this is something about creating a new “labor movement,” but also working with the existing labor movement, and lamenting that the U.S. has no labor party.  The other extreme, you might say, is to take Lenin’s argument all the way to the point where any attempt to base a politics on “interest” (of whomever or whatever) is economism.  In this view, interests exist of course, and there may be reasons to take them into account, especially when we are talking about questions of basic survival, but interests are not the basis of a truly creative emergence of a real polisany more than physical, sexual attraction is the same as the creation of a world of two people that can be called “love.”  (I discussed the reduction of politics to interests and power, and the reduction of love to sexuality, and the problem of reductionism in general, in “The Christine Blasey Ford episode,” CounterPunch.org, Nov. 2, 2018.)

The RCP was somewhere in the middle on this, which I now understand to be a problem.  After the split in the RCP that occurred over the restoration of capitalism in China, things were put on what I think was a very sound and very appealing basis in terms of the politics of internationalism, anti-imperialism, and anti-economism.  Certainly the RCP, and Bob Avakian’s leadership has to be credited for this. It was around this time, in the early ‘80s, that I came into the RCP’s orbit.  It was the time when Avakian put out Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will, which presented a sweeping analysis of the international communist movement from the time of Marx and the Paris Commune up through the Cultural Revolution and beyond. I can’t get into all of this here, but I think what was the fundamental weakness of this work that otherwise seemed the exciting beginning of a reorientation in Marxism was that the philosophical work needed for a real, qualitative break with the past limitations in Marx’s thought, was not done.  What needed to be confronted was that a Marxism grounded in interests, no matter how “broadly” considered, would result in a form of utilitarianism.

Mao at least opened the door to a Kantian critique of utilitarianism, but Bob Avakian, for whatever combination of reasons, did not seem capable of even conceptualizing this issue, much less pursing it in any deep, philosophical way.

In retrospect, I think that reorientation in Marxism was the development of a Maoism that had, for the most part, run its course.  And that Maoism ran its course, as Badiou argued, because it was not able to find a solution, ultimately, to the contradiction of the State and the self-activity of the masses.  So, while Bob Avakian made important contributions to Maoism, even to a “Maoism beyond Mao,” it makes sense that, as the “sequence” (to use Badiou’s term) that we associate with the name “Mao” came to a close, it was very difficult for Avakain, or anyone, to imagine what might come next.  So, there’s a lot of “re-tread” there, sometimes with some very good insights–though these are for the most part not developed or integrated systematically.

Ironically, at the same time the RCP at least embraced, in its ideology, what I think was a strong and admirable internationalism and anti-imperialism, in contrast to the economism of many ostensibly Marxist groups, the RCP also talked less and less about the working class.  Yes, they did offer an analysis, one that seemed sound to me, about always going “lower and deeper” into the working class, to the “real proletariat.”   Somewhere in this, however, the “proletariat” became something like a pure abstraction, with little in the way of living reality. The other irony, then, was that, while dismissing the calls of those such as Herbert Marcuse, to look toward the “new social movements,” the RCP increasingly championed struggles over race, as opposed to class.  It is not hard to see why this might happen in the United States, and perhaps up to a point this orientation did not matter so much in terms of the working class. More recently though, the result has been that “race, as opposed to class” has morphed over into “race, in opposition to class,” and more, to the point where the RCP has in effect embraced the key elements of Identity Politics, even while claiming to reject this position.

What is my larger point here?  After all, there are many who never had any use for the RCP, never cared much about Mao or the revolutions in China, etc.  I suppose there are some who will say about the RCP what some Maoists in the early ‘70s said about Trotskyism, that it is “left in form, right in essence.”  My point instead is that, however much the RCP was captured by utilitarianism, and however much this was owing to not going much further into the philosophical roots of economism, they were generally many miles beyond where other Marxist parties were on both of these questions.  Most Marxist organizations were not only not criticizing economism, they were asking what the big deal about it was in the first place.  They relegated Lenin’s analysis of economism and imperialism—and the attendant divisions in the international working class—quickly to the dustbin, and only credited him with having made advances on the “organizational question.”  Even there they were wrong, since all they took was some idea for a “vanguard,” without even grappling with Lenin’s epistemological perspective on democratic centralism.

(Obviously, there is much more to say on all the topics raised here, but this isn’t the place.  Starting in 2006, the former editor of the RCP’s newspaper left the RCP and initiated the Kasama Project.  The aim was both a re-conception and re-grouping of communism. I joined the group in September 2008. At least in the Chicago chapter, many of us were interested in the contributions of Badiou, and we had a reading group around his work.  The Project sort of fell apart in stages, and for different reasons, but, in any case, Kasama has not been going for several years now.  While it was going, the discussion on these “re-” projects was quite good, and all of this can presently be found at kasamaarchive.org, including my own efforts at “debriefing Maoism.”)

In any case, what I am pointing to is how the utilitarian, power-based left has found itself without any philosophical basis for resisting the larger, far-larger mechanisms of power in the world.  Thus they now find themselves on the side of a Democratic Party that shows nothing but contempt for ordinary working people.

I draw the conclusion that, in terms of what the world needs now, not only is the “left” worthless, but even “Marxism” as a name for the sequence of communist revolutions that run from the Paris Commune to the Cultural Revolution has come to an end.  And we need to let go of it.

We need to let go of it especially when all that it seems to be able to tell us to do is to get onboard with the anti-Trump movement, which will lead to no more than helping the Democrats (and many Republicans, too) get things back on track for globalist finance capital.

***

There are many indications of how unhinged and upside-down liberals and LOLs have become, but I would especially like to point to a roughly one-month period when Donald Trump met with Kim Jong Un in Singapore and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

The evening of the Helsinki meeting, I posted the following on my Facebook page:

Results of the past week:
Trump disrupts alliance with Europe.
Trump disrupts NATO.
Trump blasts U.S. “intelligence community.”
Trump has conversation with Putin without his many minders present.
Both establishment “parties” (“steering media for money and power,” as Habermas put it) are angry at Trump.
What’s not to like? (Just to be clear, I’m not being sarcastic.)

Predictably, many of my friends—real or Facebook-only, or somewhere in-between—jumped on this for a very simple reason: I had said positive things about Trump.  Well, that can’t be allowed!

The New York Times reported, with many others following, that “Trump sheds all notions of how a president should conduct himself abroad.”  When Trump expressed doubts about the U.S. “intelligence community” and its indications that there was Russian interference in the 2016 election, “his words prompted rebukes from Democratic and Republican lawmakers.”  One has to love this headline from the NYT: “TV anchors agape after the Trump-Putin appearance.”  There were headlines regarding “universal condemnation,” and the real kicker, the president was called a “traitor.”

The latter was because, as some of my Facebook friends wrote on their pages, the president had sold out the United States to Putin and Russia. How that would actually happen is something they didn’t really consider, and neither did they reconsider their comments in the weeks after July 16 when Russian flags didn’t go up all over the country.

All of this sounded pretty good to me.

On the way to Helsinki, Trump stopped by London to see Queen Elizabeth.  The news that day, June 14, was all about how Trump had supposedly committed a faux pas by stepping in front of the queen.  Later it was seen clearly that the queen had told the president to walk ahead of her, but even so the reaction was how terrible it was that Trump broke royal protocol.  Horrors, truly.  That the president would offend the queen of England or the British Commonwealth or whatever it is at the moment, while on his way to suck up to the president of Russia, it’s just too much.

A month before, president Trump flew to Singapore to meet with the Korean leader Kim Jong Un.  As every reader here knows, this was the first time a U.S. president has met with a leader of the DPRK.  In the wake of the meeting, the DPRK returned to the U.S. some remains of U.S. soldiers who had died in the Korean War, and it was clear these remains had been taken care of very carefully.  It was an extraordinary gesture, given the horrible war that the United States had unleashed on the people of Korea.

How anyone could see this summit meeting as anything but a good thing, I find hard to imagine.  Again, as with a few other major actions by Donald Trump, I think this one is worth the price of admission.

Of course, liberals (and other LOLs) not only do not see things this way, but more, what is very important, they cannot let themselves see things this way.  So, my liberal and ostensibly leftist friends say things on the order of, “Well, we don’t know how this is really going to work out.”  Hmm … that’s so strange … after all, we do know how most everything else is going to work out, but, on this one thing, we can’t be too sure.

Rachel Maddow commented on the “spectacle” and the “weirdness” of the summit, saying that “we” shouldn’t “sugar coat” Trump’s having reached out to “the most repressive dictatorship on earth.”  “There’s a reason why no U.S. president has agreed to give the North Korean dictatorship what they have wanted for so long.”  The only “accomplishment” Maddow sees here is that Trump has bestowed “legitimacy” on the North Korean regime.  (MSNBC, July 12, 2018)

That’s some really brilliant bullshit, from the Democratic Party’s paradigm of an “educated woman.”

Actually, I want to say a couple things about this “educated woman” theme from the Democratic Party leadership.  This is clearly a signal to those in the professional middle-class or those who aspire to this class, but there is also something more here with this reference to “educated.”

First, “educated” here is a reference to those young people who are presently in some part of the college/university system, or who have been through this system in the last ten years or so.  In other words, it’s more praise for the always-needing-of-praise middle-class Millennial generation.  (And isn’t it the case when people talk about Millennials, they mean middle class, or perhaps a few scholarship students from the working class, perhaps minority students, who are taken—rightly or wrongly—to aspire to the middle class?)  What, however, is the relationship between having a university degree and being “educated” these days?  To put it succinctly, and I’m sorry that this is not very nice, most people receiving college degrees are not what one ought to call “educated.”  The “hard” sciences, or some of them, and the humanities (or some of them), may be a little different, but, for the most part students have come out of colleges and universities for years now not having been and not having become good readers.  In fact, the “trick” that so many students in recent years are trying to achieve is to get through college without reading a single book, and many of them are able to “achieve” this.  Clearly this includes a great deal of today’s “educated” liberals, who, if they “know” anything, it is simply how to put certain terms in play in order to defeat the white cis-male or whatever.  I’m sure those who support that model of “education” will not rest until every college is made over into the Title IX/SJW paradise that is Palo Alto University, where Christine Blasey Ford teaches.

My other comment goes more directly to the liberal talking heads such as Maddow, and public opinion they seek to generate among liberals regarding the Trump-Kim summit.  Whether these talking heads are so “educated” that they cannot understand this, I do not know, but anything to do with North Korea is very significantly more to do with China.  Indeed, the Korean War itself had a great deal to do with China, as did the Vietnam War and the larger war that the United States unleashed in Southeast Asia. Even for those who ever knew this in the first place, which is probably not so many these days, there is a tendency to forget that, from the moment Mao and the Communist Party of China took nationwide power in 1949, the U.S. went into overdrive to create havoc on the borders and in border regions.

So, here is president Trump attempting to consistently pursue something he said throughout his campaign, that a world in which the U.S. gets along with Russia and China is a better world, and Democrats and LOLs have put themselves in a position where they can only criticize Trump for these efforts.  This is where the Democrats and other anti-Trump movement people have been since the 2016 election, but in the period from June 12 to July 16 of this past summer they really sealed themselves into this box, and it is very hard to see how they can get out of it.  At the very least, they are going to need the help of people who are not so “educated.”

***

The anti-Trumpers, on the one side, and those who are at least open to the idea that there is a Trump experiment that ought to unfold a bit more, on the other, seem to live in two very different worlds.  This is literally true, in some ways; here I will conclude by speaking to the outcome of the mid-term elections in terms of the divide between “rural” and “urban.”

Democrats at the presidential level have been elected or supported in recent years by mostly urban majorities in a handful of mostly northern states (with the exception of California).  (Having grown up in Miami, I can also say that the urban centers of central and south Florida are also “northern” in the relevant aspects.)  What this means is that, looking at things in terms of the “red” and “blue” states, presidents can be elected by a relative handful of cities.  Considering a map of red and blue counties, one will see a United States that is overwhelmingly red, while the blue parts are the counties that encompass New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.

When it comes to the U.S. Congress as a whole, things work differently, as there isn’t the winner-takes-all aspect (whereby, for example, Chicago/Cook County can mostly overwhelm the rest of Illinois) and there is no Electoral College.  There are still questions about how majorities (or majorities of those who vote) express themselves in the outcomes of elections, but they are different questions. Here the blue states tend to express themselves better in the House of Representatives, while the red states are better represented in the Senate.  Some complain about this set-up, as the Senate is not apportioned in terms of the populations of each state, and therefore seems to be not a body reflecting majority rule.

However, let us interrupt this little Civics class for a moment to remind ourselves that there is nothing in the U.S. system, at least at the national level, that is really representative of “the people” in any substantive sense.  We can simply cite president Jimmy Carter, Nobel Prize winner, committed Christian, greatest Democrat alive (according to Democrats, I mean), and almost certainly one of only two or three U.S. presidents who is not/was not a pussy grabber (along with Abraham Lincoln, probably the greatest president, who was gay), and who, as the head of an effort to certify elections in various countries as “free, fair, and open,” has spoken to the oligarchic nature of the U.S. system.  Someone praised by Lincoln, namely Karl Marx, proclaimed that every class society is a “dictatorship” in the following way: a capitalist society is a society ruled by capital.  This means that, albeit in complicated, often messy ways, capital decides—unless some countervailing force forces things in another direction.  There is ample historical experience to show that electoral “politics” is not a real countervailing force.  In a way, it is the number one task of the Democratic Party to convince people otherwise, despite the fact that no so-called “democracy” (or “democratic republic”) has been bought and paid for to the extent that the United States has been—and that is not even to get into the basis (in slavery, indentured servitude, genocide of the existing indigenous population, and general dispossession of the great majority) for what was called a “revolution” in 1776.  (Despite this, I do not agree, or at least not entirely, with most European Marxists, e.g. some of my favorites such as Sartre, Adorno, and Badiou, that there was nothing at all good in the American Revolution.)  So that’s the Civics class none of us got back in the day, and of course there is a great deal of complexity left out here.

What is Donald Trump in all this?  I’ve proposed three terms: experiment, clarification, and disruption.  In the aforementioned “all this,” I think the third of these terms is most important.  Trump disrupted the Republican Party in very significant ways on his way to the nomination.  That disruption did not necessarily have to be a good thing, in any larger terms—but, in fact, it was a good thing.  Because it is a delicious passage that ought to make any person with good will toward humanity happy, I will quote again from Tucker Carlson’s Ship of Fools:

It is possible to isolate the precise moment that Trump permanently alienated the Republican establishment in Washington: February 13, 2016.  There was a GOP primary debate that night in Greenville, South Carolina, so every Republican in Washington was watching.  Seemingly out of nowhere, Trump articulated something that no party leader had ever said out loud.  “We should never have been in Iraq,” Trump announced, his voice rising.  “We have destabilized the Middle East.”

Many in the crowd booed, but Trump kept going: “They lied.  They said there were weapons of mass destruction.  There were none.  And they knew there were none.”

This was the moment when Jeb Bush and the whole Bush family was done for, and how can anyone in the liberal/left camp not be happy about that? And Jeb helped nicely with his whining, “I’m tired of people attacking my brother and my family.”  Yes, wonderful crime family there! –or, crime plus CIA, which is pretty much how the latter always works.  Just like that, too, Jeb’s 100+ million dollars spent on the campaign went down the toilet.  But let’s stay with Carlson a bit more:

Pandemonium seemed to erupt in the hall, and on television.  Shocked political analysts [were they agape?] declared the Trump presidential effort had just euthanized itself.  Republican voters, they said with certainty, would never accept attacks on policies their party had espoused and carried out. …

Rival Republicans denounced Trump as an apostate.  Voters considered him brave.

Trump won the South Carolina primary, and shortly after that, the Republican nomination.

Republicans in Washington never recovered.  When Trump attacked the Iraq War and questioned the integrity of the people who planned and promoted it, he was attacking them. [This is where the Bill Kristol narrative picks up.]  They hated him for that. (My emphasis; pp.108-109.)

As I said in “The Christine Blasey Ford episode,” you know it’s a different, topsy-turvy world when Tucker Carlson is making far more sense than the “left.”  But then, I suppose it’s a topsy-turvy world when the First Lady is from the same country as Slavoj Zizek!

And consider again the fact that the LOLs had been saying for years that they were “frustrated” that Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton, did not go after G.W. Bush on the Iraq War and what led up to it. HRC is of course a hawk, she is all about war and militarism; but even if she wasn’t so hawkish, she is also all about the game of “politics” as it is supposed to be played.  When Trump showed very bad etiquette in that debate, he really broke with the entire political establishment, and made them all look like the craven, lying power-players they are.

Couldn’t a good argument be made, on the basis of Trump’s apostasy, and on the basis of my Marx 101 Civics-class presentation, and on the basis of the reactionary etiquette of all acceptable establishment politicians of either establishment party (in the complete bullshit “two-party system,” that we all learned about in Civics class), that Trump’s election was the closest thing to a triumph for democracy that could possibly happen in the United States?

Obviously, Trump is not the international proletariat, but is he in some way representing something of the working class?  Ironically, the LOLs themselves think this—except that what Trump represents is the “stupid, fascist, racist, white, male workers” of the “rural” parts of the U.S.  Of course the “male” part is definitely not true, part of why HRC lost is that the majority of white women, and many other women, did not vote for her.

What exactly are the “rural” parts of the United States?  As I suggest above, referring to the blue/red map of counties rather than states, “rural America” is now everything that is outside of a handful of large and relatively large cities.  (Having lived in Shanghai and Mexico City in recent years, my perception of what is a relatively large city has been altered a good deal.  But what I’m really talking about is the famous New Yorkercartoon on the New Yorker’s view of the United States.)  In some sense there are very few parts of the United States that are “rural” anymore.  There are cars, roads, highways, electricity, and television; even more, now, there is the internet.  The latter is working well as a force of globalist homogenization.

Two things that larger cities bring is more “diversity” and more “culture.”  The second of these is not at all available to everyone, and certainly not equally, but still, it seems like a good thing.

“Diversity” is universally praised as good, but I think it’s a little more complicated than that, and one way to see this is in the class structures of cities.  Of course all my liberal, academic friends “love the diversity” of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc.  For them it is like a smorgasbord of experiences that they can have, and then they go home to relative comfort.  Of course they are “around” ethnic Mexicans quite a lot, boys and girls and men and women who work in restaurants (not just Mexican restaurants), generally in the back, and sometimes as caregivers.  In universities there are non-white students who either come from better-off families or who have been provided with financial aid in the hope that they can join the middle class in a very assimilated, middle-class way.  Some of these students succeed, while many quietly slip away.  How much longer even this experiment will go on is uncertain, as even for middle-class whites the “college experience” is becoming untenable.  The term that cannot be brought into the “diversity” parade is indeed class, because urban diversity on the whole depends on a great deal of class inequality, and situations where, on the whole, after one has one’s exciting “diversity”-interactions for the day, one can retreat to a different kind of space.  Obviously this is an extreme example, but consider the meme that went around recently, featuring mega-pop star Katy Perry.  As part of the “resistance” to Trump on the border question, she preaches, “The greatest thing we can do is unite and just love on each other.  No barriers, no borders, we all just need to coexist.” And yet Perry “lives in a very-large, nineteen-million dollar mansion, hidden at the end of a private drive in a gated community surrounded by security.”  Many of the leading Democratic politicians have similar set-ups.

One of the things that happens in the “rural” part of American, which includes medium-sized cities and towns in states as diverse as Ohio and Iowa and Kansas and Wyoming and—well, really, most of the states (and much of Canada!) is that “diversity” is not just the fun mixing of cultures and colors that liberal academics celebrate.  Instead it is the supplanting of a longstanding culture by a new population of non-union workers who have been brought in by what are more or less legal “human traffickers”—except these traffickers don’t work for some penny-ante operation (though, at the ground level, they may live like prison guards, not so much better-off than prisoners), they ultimately work for globalized finance capital.  This is not a fun scene, for anyone, really—but all the LOLs can do is complain that the “rural, white” people don’t want or like “diversity.”

There is a good deal more to say about this question, but once again I’ll put in a plug for Ship of Fools; see Ch. 5, “The diversity diversion.”  There’s more to say than what Carlson says, too, but in any case, much of what he says is on a topic that has been ruled out of order by academic liberals and, what is so vastly crazy I would find it hard to wrap my head around it if I hadn’t come through that scene myself, academic leftists and Marxists—namely, the topic of class.

But I’m sure all these good folks would want to talk about class if only the workers (or the “white workers”) weren’t so stupid, racist, misogynist (even the women, obviously), and fascist.  You see, they’ve ruled themselves out of consideration. We are back with the crude dismissal of the working class by Bertrand Russell and other aristocratic, Fabian socialists.  Russell, in his sweeping, generalized characterization of Marxism, claimed that Marx and Marxists thought that the working class should rule society because they are some sort of morally-superior class.  Perhaps Russell was unconsciously reflecting on his own superior attitudes (Russell was not so “open” as to accept his gay son, for example, and the poor young man fell into insanity), but, in any case, despite the fact that very few working-class people could even begin to get up to the debaucheries perpetrated by the ruling class (no one can afford these things, if nothing else), Marx’s argument is something quite different, it has to do with the social structure.

As I said above, that even Maoists and so many others who have called themselves “Marxists” down through the decades could now buy into this nonsense, if from the “other side” (working people, or the “white working class,” is morally-inferior), as it were, is a disaster of epic proportions, right up there with LOLs loving the CIA, FBI, Mueller, George W. Bush, John McCain, etc.

There’s a good side to this, though.  It shouldn’t be so hard to break with all of this horrible crap, and in fact most “ordinary people,” especially “ordinary working people,” aren’t having such a hard time breaking with it.  And whether or not Trump truly represents these people, he does seem to be an alternative to the horrible crap that the Democratic Party proudly represents.

And you know what they’re going to say: something about the rural, white, working class being fascist, etc.  And something about me being a fascist or fascist sympathizer, etc.

In my CounterPunch.org articles, I’ve tried to say some structural things about capitalism, imperialism, globalism, and postmodern capitalism, and the specifically-American context for why I not only don’t think Trump is a fascist, but also why I don’t think real fascism will work in America.  One very major reason is that a fascist society is a highly-militarized and politicized (in a particular ideological way) society, and, for all kinds of reasons such a society is not in the offing here.  These reasons range from consumerism (don’t stop going to the mall just because of 9/11 and the Patriot Act) and the warped view of what freedom is in a consumerist society, to the recent announcement of the “Space Force.” The “Space Force” is something that was coming for some time now, and it will be coming regardless of who is president—and one reason for this is that the U.S. cannot hope to mobilize the numbers of people it would take to actually “win” a long-term war in, say, Iran—it cannot even do this in Iraq or Afghanistan.  (See chapters 9 and 10 of George Friedman, The Next Hundred Years [2010], for a very plausible scenario on the Space Force; most likely this will grow out of what most people do not realize is the “other space program,” namely the U.S. Air Force.)  On the other hand, this mechanization-robotization-cyberization of space is mixed up with a gaggle of other issues, including immigration (let people in to become cannon fodder) and a military system that is, in effect, just as much a welfare system as anything else.

Certainly there are “Orwellian,” or “Vonnegut-ian” aspects to all this (see the latter’s Player Piano on the “Reeks and Wrecks”), but these don’t add up to fascism, and indeed these sorts of things work better in a system of global “markets,” especially where the working people are treated like excremental beings who are the worst kind of people, who need to shut up and check their privilege, curb their racist and misogynist anger, and get back to work, if they have work, and otherwise bugger off.

That’s the message our LOLs have for working people, who they think they can carve into sections by race, etc.—and capitalism especially in its eighteenth to twentieth-century forms, and in new forms employing Identity Politics today, has done an exemplary job with this carving.  Let’s go back for a moment to Max Horkeimer’s famous line that, “If you’re not going to talk about capitalism, shut up about fascism.”  Somehow it has escaped today’s LOLs, most significantly the avowedly-leftist (and even “Marxist”) side of this bunch that they go on about Trump being a capitalist (and he is, but let’s also think structurally about some of the divisions among the capitalists), but they have put themselves in a position where all they can do is affirm the gigantic forces of capitalism in the United States and the world, with its leading edge of finance capital.

Obviously this is very complicated stuff.  The point here, though, is that in pursuing this “fascism” thesis (though to call it a “thesis” is to give too much credit to it), these LOLs have suckered themselves into supporting the main workings of capital in the world today—and, from this, nothing good will come, and much that is bad.

So, what would actually be good is to stop blaming working people for having figured this out—even if not in the heavily “theorized” way that some academics might prefer.

The irony here is that, in this age where the left is wrapped-up in Identity Politics, there’s not a lot of good “theoretical” work going around, things have mostly been reduced to a jargon that is good for little more than name-calling and call-out culture.

It is hard to expect that things will go in a better way for the existing Left.  They’ve dumbed themselves down too far. (In terms of philosophy and what came to be called “theory”—based in literary theory and giving rise to “cultural studies”—I do blame some of this dumbing down on the more recent outcomes of phenomenology and hermeneutics, with not enough structuralism.)  They’ve attached themselves too thoroughly to power as the be-all of everything.  (It has to be recognized that some of this comes out of utilitarian and Hobbesian aspects of Marx, and the Machiavellian aspects of Lenin—and the failure to grapple with the ways in which Mao and others provided a corrective to this.)  Their self-conception (and this goes for liberals in general) as so bloody smart is bound up with the idea that most ordinary people are stupid.

It is hard to imagine that this LOL/LARP “resistance” can go much further, or that it could have gone as far as it has, for that matter, without some major, if hidden, backing.

All this went around a major bend with the Month I discussed. Another bend was traversed with the Christine Blasey Ford and Elizabeth Warren stunts, though at that point the LOLs were moving at breakneck speed toward the mid-terms, only taking time out to blame Trump for the (fake) pipe bombs and the murder of eleven Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue.  The pipe-bomb suspect looks very suspicious, not like someone who could have pulled off what he is charged with doing; the person charged with the synagogue murders was angry that Trump is not an anti-Semite.  Trump made strong statements in both cases, but of course all of that just became fodder for the Democrats on the way to the mid-terms.

Now we have some results.

I will say, and perhaps this will make my liberal friends a little happy, that I’m not sorry that certain Republicans lost their elections. In my home state of Kansas, I’m not sorry that the Republican lost the race for governor.  It’s good that people here have had enough of Brownback-ism, and more or less any Republican candidate for governor in Kansas is going to be in the pocket of the Koch brothers.  Similarly, it’s of course good that Scott Walker has been booted out in Wisconsin.  There are a few more examples like that around the country where I’m not only not sorry the Republican lost, but that the Democrat won.

In terms of the Trump experiment, I can see some possibility for something good coming out of the Democratic retake of the House.  One would think that the Democrats will now have to actually have to make concrete proposals on immigration rather than just blather ideological baloney that amounts in reality to there not being any borders.  (Again, here, there are all kinds of complexities to questions of immigration and borders that the supposedly-benign view of immigration espoused by LOLs papers over.)  They might actually have to take responsibility for something, for a change.  As I’ve said before, there is almost a “situationist” (in the sense of Guy Debord) aspect to the way that Trump pushes “maximal” solutions in order to at least thematize the need for some solution.  Perhaps here, too, we see that what is especially disruptive about Trump is that, while he is “of” the world of capitalism and the capitalist economic and “political” system, he is not entirely “in” it.

Now, compare this with what is entirely “in” this latter world, and who would not have things any other way … in other words, the Democratic Party, and all who would give aid and comfort to it.

And so, are the Democrats actually gearing up to propose solutions to these problems that have been thematized (sometimes in a forced and perhaps “extreme” way) by president Trump?  No, of course not.  For one thing, immediately after the midterms (even with ballots still being counted and contested in some states), the Democrats have a new hero: Jeff Sessions! They are holding new demonstrations: Protect the Mueller investigation!

Let’s note that the Democrats themselves do not officially use the term “fascism” when talking about Trump—that is instead the ostensible Marxists, including my former comrades of the formerly Maoist RCP.  The latter cite the definition of fascism formulated in 1935 by the Comintern leader, Georgi Dimitrov.  Dimitrov based himself on Lenin and argued that fascism is the open dictatorship of the most reactionary elements of finance capital. This describes the Democrats nicely, especially insomuch as they wrap this dictatorship up in SJW and Identity Politics rhetoric.

What leading Democrats have said in the wake of the midterms (only a few days ago, now) is that their concentration will be on more investigations of Trump, support for the Mueller investigation (including what no special prosecutor has had or is supposed to have, complete carte blanche to look into anything and everything—other than, one supposes, things like the installation of a fascist regime in the Ukraine by Obama’s and Clinton’s State Department), and attempts to impeach Trump.  But hey, there are good reasons for this: 1) the Democrats know they have no alternative on the immigration/border situation, and neither do they want one, because their main aim is to undermine the working people of the U.S. for the benefit of globalist finance capital; 2) especially these newer, younger Democrats, these “fresh faces” that my liberal friends are so excited about, have never gotten down to any kind of real work other than SJW activism, and this latter kind of “work” mainly consists in name-calling to bring people down.  On this latter point, let’s not forget that Identity Politics inevitably divides against itself; it would not be surprising if we are about to see a sectarianism that makes previous left sectarianisms look like a hippie drum circle.

***

Remember the very simple message that Trump had for potential African-American voters in 2016?  “What do you have to lose?”  Understood as a constituency, and an “identity,” things were a little more complicated than that.  But perhaps the eight-percent of African-Americans who voted for Trump understood well enough that it was worth taking a chance, when the Democrats treated them as chumps.  (Significantly, that eight-percent consisted in four-percent women, thirteen-percent men.) Whether African-American unemployment is down as much as Trump says, or as little as the Democrats say, it seems clear that at least it is down.

When it comes to the thematization of the “rural” and of working people—which more or less comes to the same thing, and neither is it some racially monolithic group, either (as Trump has continually thematized in speeches that brilliant liberals can only hear as something from the Nuremburg rallies)—Trump is at least bringing forward issues that do not exist in any positive or constructive way for the LOLs.  This deserves credit, because, whether or not Trump is really for the working people, at least he is not the sworn enemy of working people, at least he does not openly express contempt for working people.

But I frankly think the Trump experiment, disruption, and clarification opens up much more than that for the ordinary working people, of all colors, genders, and sexualities of the United States, and one can at least hope that opportunities are opened up for ordinary people of other countries if the United States can get out of their business.  (I will say more about this in a subsequent article, which at the moment I hope to title something like, “From Maoist to Trumpist? Encountering today’s “left.”)

So, to my many liberal or effectively-liberal friends who say that “revolution is not in the offing” and there is some sort of qualitative difference between normally-functioning bourgeois democracy and what Trump is and represents, and so I have to choose, my response is:

Laissez l’experience rouler!

Bill Martin is professor of philosophy emeritus from DePaul University.  He is aiming to go from retired professor to renewed philosopher, and also to devote a good deal of time to making music.  After twenty-eight years in Chicago, he now lives full-time in Salina, Kansas.  His most recent book is Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.  He is also a musician, and has now released four albums of experimental music in his “Avant-Bass” series, most recently Raga Chaturanga (Avant-Bass 3) and Emptiness, Garden: String Quartets (Avant-Bass 4).

 

Categories: News for progressives

After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:42

[Editor’s note: The Man from the North is a fictional character from Rivera Sun’s series of novels. She has him offering essays beyond her novels.]

The Vote – the beloved, abused, scorned, corrupted, stolen, hijacked, pointless, profound, hopeful, depressing, hard-won, cherished vote – is not the only way to take action for meaningful change. Currently, the elections operate in our nation like a cattle chute, all too often forcing us back into the deadly, no-win tracks of the two-party duopoly that serves primarily the moneyed class. It becomes a handy device for siphoning off the demand for revolutionary change by giving mostly false hope that elected officials will actually enact their campaign promises once in office.

Instead of taking matters into our own, capable, millions of hands, we vote to let someone else take care of it. And, in large part, these representatives do nothing beyond raising funds for their next campaign. We wind up hamstringing our movements over and over. We vote for Candidate X’s promises of someday guaranteeing living wages instead of going on strike until we actually get them. We vote for Candidate Y’s vow to someday ban assault weapons instead of picketing and blockading arms dealers. Instead of targeting fossil fuel investors, we try to elect politicians to craft legislation that, even if passed, is largely ignored by industry until they manage to get officials and judges in place to overturn the law.

It is maddening and infuriating. We have other – and better – options.

Change happens on many levels: cultural, economic, industrial, social, artistic, personal, psychological, spiritual, and more. We must work in all of them if we hope for lasting, systemic shifts. Don’t be fooled by the annual circus of voting. Go vote, sure, but don’t sit back down on the couch when you’ve cast your ballot. Go out into your community, businesses, churches, colleges, and so on, and work for the changes we wish to see in the world. In truth, no legislation has the power to enact the full scope of change without the cooperation of all those other institutions and the popular support in ordinary citizens.

Want living wages, for example? Change the sickening culture of greed and the hero worship of the criminals at the top of capitalism’s cannibalistic food chain. Challenge the moral “right” our culture places upon exploitation and survival of the fittest. We will never see justice for workers while we salivate over billionaires and laud their “brilliance” (read: ruthless willingness to shove others under the bus) with which they “made their fortunes” (read: stolen from others by means of low wages, high prices, global exploitation, insider deals, destruction of the earth, corruption of democracy, self-serving laws and legislation.)

Elections and politics are the games of elites. We are whipped up each election cycle to serve as their cheering crowds at their jousting matches. It is no better than the feudal days of fighting for this king or that queen when the real struggle is the establishment of “nobles” and the theft of common land from the people. In the 1500s, the real struggle was not whether Queen Elizabeth of England and Mary Queen of Scots would sit on the throne, but rather, how ordinary women were being stripped of rights and lowered into the status of property. Neither Mary nor Elizabeth’s rule stopped the rise of patriarchy into a monstrous beast that still echoes in the policies and practices of today.

History is long; I could go on with examples across nations, class, and creed. The real challenge of our times is not which super-wealthy Democratic or Republican regime gets to hand out sweet deals and lucky breaks to their friends, but how we, the people, wrest the state apparatus from the death-grip of the “nobility” of our times. Just as fighting for this king or that queen was not as vital as defending the commons, so do I warn you, today, about over-inflating the significance of the vote.

The idea is wonderful; our practice of it, deplorable. Never confuse those two. Prize our ideals. Exercise your right to vote – it is hard-won for 75 percent of our populace. But never allow its current, corrupted incarnation to distract you from working on cultural, economic, social, or any other type of change. Measure for measure, pour your courageous heart into all levels of change. If you spend 10 minutes reading a report about a candidates’ forum, spend the same time reading about – and participating in – strikes for better wages or sit-ins to abolish mass incarceration or shut-downs of insurance offices for affordable healthcare. If you go door-to-door canvassing for a politician, spend an equal amount of time knocking on doors to build support for a boycott of exploitative goods. If you’re willing to throw a house party for an election campaign, go to a local organizer and offer to throw a house party in support of their social justice cause. If you donate to a political campaign, donate to a movement, too.

These are just a few examples. Remember that the elections have become a massive industry. Many of our social justice movements remain shoestring, miracle-workers. Your time, skills, and donations are all deeply appreciated by your fellow citizens who are striving for significant change. Don’t forget them during the shouting matches of our election circuses. Without our movements changing the hearts and minds and daily lives of ordinary people, the mere words on paper that make up legislation have no meaning. Laws are irrelevant if officials ignore them, courts reject them, and people disobey them. Do the legwork of making sure that the populace can uphold justice, not merely because it is the law, but because it is our will, our belief, and our sense of justice turned into a way of life. To do this, you must make change in every level of our lives.

Categories: News for progressives

Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:38

The town of Libby is a striking and tragic example of corporate irresponsibility, weak regulation and the deadly effects of asbestos exposure. And it’s not just Libby. Nationally, the epidemic of deaths from asbestos exposure shows no sign of slowing down — it’s estimated that nearly 40,000 people die from asbestos exposure each year in the USA alone.

Asbestos is a known human carcinogen and experts agree that no amount of use of the toxin is safe. The European Union already prohibits its use, and despite this ominous classification, the United States is woefully lagging behind in the banning of asbestos.

Asbestos-related deaths in the United States demonstrate how our regulatory system for managing chemicals in the U.S. — known as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) — has failed to protect the public. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban asbestos in 1980s, but despite the overwhelming evidence of its deadliness, a court ruled in 1991 that the EPA failed to clear all the hurdles under this law.

When Congress passed bipartisan legislation in 2016 strengthening TSCA, many thought it would pave the way to banning asbestos use in the U.S. In fact, that was the intention under the newly strengthened TSCA and the accompanying regulations written by the Obama administration.

Under the Trump administration, the EPA issued a significant new use rule (SNUR) which opens the door to allowing old uses of asbestos to return to commerce. Given the scientific community’s consensus that no amount of use of asbestos is safe, allowing these old deadly uses to resume will surely mean more lives lost. And the sad reality is that if imports of the toxin are not banned, manufacturers will continue to use it.

What’s even more frightening is that we don’t have a clear picture of how much asbestos is entering the United States because manufacturers are not required to report this information to the EPA. In an effort to change this, a petition was recently submitted to the agency by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and co-signed by Montana-based Women’s Voices for the Earth.

The petition asks the EPA to use their new authority under TSCA to require importers of asbestos-containing materials to report the quantity of the toxin and the types of products it’s found in. Without this information, we have no idea who is importing the chemical or where it’s being used, making it very difficult to limit exposure or even assess the risk posed to workers, who are often disproportionately impacted, and the public. Of course, the end goal isn’t just to secure our right to know where it’s being used — it is to ban asbestos.

The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2017 (SB 2072) has been introduced in Congress that would give the EPA the authority to ban asbestos. U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is an original co-sponsor of the bill. U.S. Sen. Steve Daines has not signed on as a co-sponsor.

The people of Libby are living out a horrible tragedy, and they deserve for it to mean something more. They deserve for it to result in a change that will protect others from enduring the same illness and loss. We cannot simply let the town be a cautionary tale of what happens when regulations don’t go far enough to protect public health, even when there is clear evidence of danger. We need to act. We need our leaders to act and finally ban the import and use of this insidious toxin.

Jamie McConnell is the interim executive director, and the director of programs and policy at Missoula-based Women’s Voices for the Earth.

This column originally appeared in The Missoulian. 

Categories: News for progressives

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